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DukeEngage in D.C. has been a unique experience so far. With most everyone in the cohort interning at a different organization, each one of us has had quite a different experience. Being a computer science major and lacking any policy experience, I was initially hesitant to apply to the D.C. program as it’s titled “Contributing to National Science Policy.” However, I have found that my placement at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been an eye-opening experience that has given me a new perspective on how science and policy interact in the federal system.

NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce; consisting of various metrology labs, NIST’s goal is “to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.” Although there are many opportunities for undergraduates in the various technical labs, my internship is with the Program Coordination Office (PCO). The PCO works closely with the NIST Director and Associate Directors to facilitate cooperation between the various laboratories, industry partners, and management.

My first week at NIST has been slightly hectic. The PCO oversees the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) meeting, a triannual meeting that brings together various outside experts in the technology sector. The meeting is a two-day event that aims to get feedback on NIST’s operations and policies.

With a wide range of expertise, the VCAT includes many private sector experts including the CTO of Lockheed Martin, Senior Vice President of Verizon, and the former Director of the National Science Foundation, just to name a few. During this meeting, various NIST directors and experts presented on the operations of their respective division of NIST, which was then followed by discussions with VCAT regarding possible areas of improvement.

With large portions of the meeting devoted to quantum technology and artificial intelligence, I was able to get a better understanding of the importance of the work being done at NIST; while learning new and exciting information that directly relates to computer science. Being in an environment with so many intelligent scientists, and industry leaders gave me a snapshot of how NIST influences policy through cutting edge science.

This internship has been quite the shift from napping after every class at Duke to working a 40-hour work week with an hour long commute; but, the information and experience I have gained has proven to be well worth it. I am looking forward to the remaining 6 weeks of this internship, and will be focusing on absorbing as much information as possible from the great people that I have the privilege of working with at NIST.