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Nikki Sanford

High Point University, AIP Mather Policy Intern

As an AIP Mather Policy Intern, Nikki is spending her summer at Capitol Hill with the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The primary purpose of the AIP Mather Policy Internships (supported by the John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts) is to promote awareness of and interaction with the policy process in Washington D.C. for undergraduate physics students.

View Nikki's Final Presentation.

Nikki’s Q&A with the APS Forum on Physics & Society

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Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Final Reflections

Starting Law School

I've been in law school for a little over three weeks now and it's off to a great start! Although the case readings and class lectures are definitely different from the physics/math courses I was used to, the analytical thinking skills I gained from them were excellent preparation for the logical case interpretations and rule applications that we discuss in class.

My Science Committee Internship this summer has proved to be extremely beneficial so far, towards my law studies. Research assignments, office memo writing, update meetings, and outreach/interviews are various skills that I've gained experience with this summer, and are all key topics in my legal writing and research classes. There is always a learning curve when applying skills learned in the classroom to real world situations, so it's immensely helpful that I've come into school with a handle on those basics, and experience with how they are utilized in an fast-paced work environment.

I'm sure my experience this summer will continue to have a great impact on my future plans as well, since it introduced me to many career options, opportunities, and great networking contacts. I learned so much about the Legislative Process, Congressional Staff duties, and how each person truly can have a significant influence. It's made me eager to be in a position where I can effect change and make a difference. I'm looking forward to these next 3 years, and seeing what the future has in store!

Week 9: Final Week on the Hill, Presentations, and Farewells
July 29-August 2, 2013

As I finish up my final day with the Science Committee, I can definitely say that this has been one of my most memorable summers yet. I also could not have imagined a more exciting and eventful final week. We kicked off the week by holding the very first Science Intern Google Hangout session! Katherine and I were broadcast live on Google+ and YouTube to talk about our experience in the Committee, the Hearings, Markups, and projects we’ve worked on, and how our science background has been beneficial for working in a science policy environment. The Hangout can be viewed at:

July 31 marked a significant moment in the science community: the First Anniversary of the ‎NASA Mars ‎Curiosity Rover Landing. A reception was held in the Senate Hart building that evening to celebrate, and the other science hill interns and I got to attend. As soon as we got there, I noticed that Bill Nye the Science Guy was in the room! Since we were a little early, there weren’t many people around him yet, so Katherine and I introduced ourselves, and chatted briefly about working in the Science Committee. Then, he offered to take pictures with us, and used my cell phone to take selfies!

As we walked across the room afterwards, we ran into NASA Administrator and former Discovery Astronaut Charlie Bolden! He took a picture with the two us and then asked us about working in the Science Committee, school, and our science backgrounds. He was genuinely interested in hearing about our experiences and sharing his passion for NASA and science, and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to meet him.

Thursday was the Committee’s last markup and hearing before recess, and my last opportunity to work at them. The morning’s markup was full of passionate debate about whether to authorize a subpoena for EPA research data. Then the Bristol Bay Assessment Hearing discussed potential issues arising from proposed mining plans. Throughout this summer, I had helped on several research projects dealing with Bristol Bay, so I was extremely interested in hearing all the witness testimonies, especially our witness Mr. Wayne Nastri, whom I was also able to speak to after the hearing.

And last, but most certainly not least, today, all four of us Science Interns got to meet the Ranking Member Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson! She graciously held a small soiree to thank us all for our work this summer. I’m still amazed how quickly these past two months have gone by. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had this summer, and all the time, effort, and support the Committee Staff have put into making sure my internship has been stimulating, educational, and successful. Interning in the Science Committee has been an experience unlike any other, and I’m sure that the skills, knowledge, and perspectives I’ve gained here will stay, and benefit me throughout all my future endeavors.

The past nine weeks have gone by so quickly, and I never could have imagined that I would have met so many talented and intelligent people, or learned as much as I did.

On Tuesday, I was finally able to share my incredible experience working on the Hill and living in DC. It was great to reflect on the Hill environment, the various projects I worked on, influential people I’ve met (Dr. Mather, Rep. Bill Foster, Committee Staff, etc.), places I’ve toured and explored, and events and receptions. I enjoyed being able to share what I’ve done, and especially, how a physics degree and science background can be immensely beneficial and applicable to a range of other (and not necessarily technical) fields and career paths.

I enjoyed watching all the other SPS interns’ presentations as well. Although I had learned a bit about each of their projects this summer, it was very informative and interesting to hear about them in greater detail. It was also rewarding to see how all of our hard work and dedication this summer finally came to fruition, and that there were so many people, both inside and outside the science community, who were interested in and proud of what we had done.

We finished out our final day with reflections, an ice cream social, a tour of ACP, and all the people at AIP who made this experience possible for each and every one of us. This summer was definitely one of my most memorable. I’d like to thank everyone at AIP, Dr. Mather, the House Science Committee, and the 2013 SPS Interns, for making this summer fun, successful, and unforgettable.

Week 8: NASA on the Hill & SPS Intern Capitol Tour
July 22-26, 2013

Even though my internship with the Science Committee is winding down, the action and work in the office hasn’t slowed.  In addition to two hearings (one on EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Investigation and the other on the Future of Coal) I had the opportunity to experience a NASA on the Hill reception with the other Science Interns.

NASA set up exhibits and simulations throughout the Rayburn Foyer that displayed many of its current projects.  At one exhibit, I learned about spacesuit materials, and how they’ve evolved over the years.  I even got to try on several space glove designs!

SPS & Science Committee InternsThen on Friday, our fellow SPS Interns came to Capitol Hill to learn about where we work and what we do in the Science Committee.  After lunch at the Library of Congress with an amazing view overlooking DC, we brought them on a tour of the Capitol.  I love hearing the histories of the various rooms, and seeing the various statues on display, and I think the other interns greatly enjoyed the tour as well.  When we brought everyone over to our office at Ford, we were able to share a little more about our intern duties, they types of projects we’ve worked on, and the hearings/markups we’ve attended, during a small, informal Q&A session.

I’m looking forward to sharing insights from my experience this summer, during our very first Google Hangout on Monday, and seeing what’s in store during my last week with the Science Committee!

Week 7: HPU, Physicists, & NIST
July 15-19, 2013

This was definitely one of the most eventful weeks of the summer!

First, my alma mater, High Point University, came up to DC to learn more about my internship with the Science Committee.  It was their first time in and around Rayburn, so I got to show them around the Hearing Room and Chairman’s Lounge, and tell them about the different hearings, markups, and events that go on there. In a way, it felt like I had come full circle, from being a new intern observing Staff and learning about Committee duties, to sharing my experiences and showing others what we do.

The next big event was the Full Committee NASA Authorization Markup.  Prior to Thursday, everyone in the office worked nonstop compiling amendments and organizing materials.  At one point, we had two tables completely covered with the 30+ amendments, ready to be quickly edited or filed into the appropriate order.  My markup duty was to work the front desk, record video clips of Members, and answer any calls or questions that came through the office.  The Markup lasted 6 hours (the longest one so far this summer), and although only a few amendments passed, I’m definitely proud of the Staff’s diligence and endurance in both preparing for and working at the markup.

On Friday, Katherine and I met and had breakfast with Rep. Bill Foster and Dr. John Mather, two very accomplished physicists. Having physics degrees ourselves, it was incredibly interesting to hear about each of their work, and current science topics that pique their interests, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Later that day, all of us SPS interns went on a tour of NIST.  We got to see several labs and learn about some of the research that NIST conducts in order to aid industry and help make the US more competitive.  I really enjoyed learning about some of the biomedical and genomic research that has the potential to greatly benefit disease diagnoses.

Week 6: Markups, Hearings, and Tours
July 8-12, 2013

After the 4th of July recess week and a nice holiday weekend with the family, I jumped right back into work on Monday.  With 2 markups and 2 hearings on the agenda, there was a lot to do in very little time.  As the primary intern working Tuesday’s Markup of HR 2413—The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act, I had to work quickly with Staff to make sure the bills, amendments, and materials were prepared and organized.

This was the very first markup I’ve attended. Different from the hearings, where information is gathered to help inform legislation, markups are the time for members to address issues and propose changes to a bill. It was so exciting to see the legislative process in action, with members explaining their amendments, expressing concerns, debating issues, and voting on the changes. I also had the opportunity to photograph this markup, along with Thursday’s Dept. of Energy Oversight and Management Hearing. It’s amazing how many small details you can pick up through the lens of the camera; like the subtle interactions of Members conferring with counsel, and expressions and reactions to comments and questions.

Another notable event this week was that I got my very first tour of the Capitol during tour training. I’ve been through the various buildings and tunnels many times over the past 6 weeks, but this was the first time I got to hear the history of many statues, paintings, rooms, chambers, and even how Virginia sandstone is the most common building material in the Capitol buildings. I love hearing about the history behind places and artifacts, and I look forward to sharing it with the other AIP interns when they come for a tour in a couple weeks.

As this extremely eventful and busy week winds down, it’s hard to believe I only have three weeks left with the Committee. I’m sure it will seem to go by quickly, especially with a number of events coming up–like touring NIST or meeting with Rep. Bill Foster and Dr. Mather. I’m eagerly awaiting what’s to come, and sharing these experiences in my next blog post!

Week 5: 4th of July Excursions!
July 1-5, 2013

Congress was in recess this week, so it was not as busy in the office.  On Tuesday, the other interns and I were able to take the Hood and Emergency Training Course, required for all Hill Staff and Interns.  It turned out to be both informative and pretty interesting, since we got to hear about all the safety procedures, as well as notable incidents and some entertaining false alarm stories.  Katherine and I also had lunch with Jennifer Greenamoyer, at a Thai restaurant Capital South.  We got to share what we’ve been doing at work, learn what’s been going on at AIP, and our plants for the next month.

For the 4th of July weekend, I met up with a bunch of my family down in North Carolina.  We had a big pig roast, cookout, and ate a ton of food!  Since we were on the Perquimans River, near the Albemarle Sound, we got to go kayaking, boating, and fishing.  It was nice to hang out and catch up with some of my family that I hadn’t seen in a while.  On Saturday, we went to Nags Head Beach.  It was so much fun to go shopping, try some local restaurants, and watch fireworks over the water.

Week 4: Science, Receptions, and Politics
June 24-28, 2013

It’s been another eventful week here in the nation’s capital! In the committee office, all of the staff and us interns were working to prepare for two hearings and a markup of the National Windstorm Reduction Act. The two hearings were on Weather Forecasting and an evaluation of Energy Savings Performance Contracts for Green Buildings.

My hearing assignment this week was to assist the staff and photograph the Green Buildings Hearing. It’s amazing how many more details and interactions you can witness through the lens of the camera. I was able to see staff conferring with the Congressmen, capture the emotion coming from the witnesses during their testimonies, and record reactions and topics of interest to the audience.

I also had the opportunity to attend several receptions in the evenings. On Wednesday, I attended a Scientific Research Facility Exhibition, which had hands-on demonstrations of work from different labs. I got to see how a mammography device works, energy-saving roof tiles, the basics of atom-smashing, nuclear physics, and so much more!

Then, at AIP over the next couple evenings, the interns got to meet the AIP Development Board and the SPS Executive Committee. It was great to hear about everyone’s experiences this summer, meet some great professors, and talk to Dr. Mather about my experience so far on the Hill! After Friday’s dinner, we had the opportunity to go with the SPS Executive Committee to a Captiol Steps comedy performance at the Reagan Center. All of the sketches/songs poked fun at recent political events, and it was really entertaining to see a different take on the events that I’d been hearing about on the Hill each week.

Next week is a recess week for Congress, so it’ll be a little slower in the office, but I’m definitely looking forward to all the exciting events going on to celebrate the 4th of July!

Week 3: The Value of Science
June 17-21, 2013

I’ve always heard that a science degree can get you anywhere. We all know that a math/science degree is excellent preparation for the extremely vital, significant careers in research, engineering, technology and other technical fields. However, it’s not always obvious how useful and applicable it can be for almost anything. Having recently graduated with math and physics degrees I’m starting to fully realize the truth behind that statement.

Finishing up my third week with the committee, I’ve been helping with hearings, working on projects for staff, doing administrative duties, and dealing with new issues and situations that come up each day. It doesn’t necessarily seem like upper level science courses such as Modern Physics or Differential Equations would be beneficial at all with those tasks, but surprisingly, they can be.

While the content of what I learned in those kinds of classes may not always be of much use, it is the concepts and methods developed through learning the content that are applicable. STEM courses are excellent for teaching analytical thinking, coming up with creative solutions when unexpected problems arise, and seeing connections between many concepts and ideas. Those are skills needed in any and every career, and in my short time with the Committee so far they’ve definitely been helpful.

There’s rarely a straightforward formula or instructions to find a solution to the projects and problems that arise. Yet, knowing how to think logically, adapt, and be creative are the best ways to solve just about anything. I definitely developed those skills throughout my studies, and that is why I truly believe that a science degree will be helpful for all future endeavors.

Week 2: New Week, New Faces, New Perspectives
June 10-14, 2013

With upcoming hearings to prepare for, new projects coming up, calls coming in, papers to be delivered, receptions to be attended, and visitors stopping by, there is never a dull moment in the Committee office.

After attending a couple hearings last week, and witnessing all the action and excitement in person, I was most looking forward to watching the one held Wednesday, on ozone standards and their achievability. This time, watching the hearing from the office, while manning the front desk and recording video clips, I got to experience a whole new side of it. For one, the atmosphere was much more tranquil; the office was nearly empty, and I didn’t have to stay alert to assist staff or take photos. I was able to give my full attention to the statements, testimonies, and discussions.

Viewing it from this perspective also gave me a feel as to how much preparation and effort truly go into making these hearings successful. In addition to all the preparation materials and behind-the-scenes work during the hearing, there is just as much to be done afterwards. Video clips are edited, articles are written, and photographs are posted to promote awareness and discussion of the topic through news and social media. It amazes me how everything seems to run so smoothly, and I think it’s a testament to the Committee’s efficiency, organization, and dedication.

Another big event this week was the arrival of our 3rd intern, Katherine. It’s been fun having a new face in the office, and getting to know her these past few days. Next week, I’m looking forward to meeting our 4th and final summer intern, and for all the new projects and events that are bound to happen.

Week 1: Starting Out on Capitol Hill
June 3-7, 2013

It’s hard to believe that my exciting, action-packed first week living and working in DC is finally coming to a close.  After the other interns and I met and moved into GW at Foggy Bottom last weekend, we started off the week with an Orientation at AIP.  We got to meet many of the people who help run AIP’s many departments/divisions, and helped to make this internship possible.  We also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather, who is also graciously funding my position this summer.  It was a fascinating opportunity to be able to discuss his research, current scientific developments, politics, education, and many other topics with such an accomplished, amiable individual as Dr. Mather.

After this, I headed to Capitol Hill to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where I will be working this summer.  Located in the Ford Building, the office is adjacent to the other Federal Office Buildings and the Capitol.  As soon as I got there I was welcomed by the staff, and was able to help them prepare for the next day’s full committee hearing on STEM education.  I learned about the information needed to run the hearing, for briefing the ranking member, and the background on the witnesses.

The next day, the hearing had excellent attendance from the public; it was standing room only!  I got to help prepare the dais beforehand, assist the staff, and take photographs for the Committee to use on its website and/or Facebook page.  It was an awesome experience and was exciting to be a part of the action.  On Wednesday, I got to attend and help with a subcommittee hearing on windstorms (like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma,) and efforts to reduce their impact.

In addition to all this, I finally got my official House of Representatives badge for the summer and have started to learn my way around the area and the tunnels connecting the various buildings.  It’s amazing how large and complex the underground system is, and how there’s even a private subway beneath the Capitol.  There was an Einstein Fellows poster session in the Russell Senate building yesterday, which was a great opportunity that the other SPS interns and I were able to attend.  We got to speak with current fellows, members of the Dept. of Education, and catch up with AIP staff about our first week.

I’ve only been here a few days, but am already amazed by how energetic and inspiring this environment is.  I’m really looking forward to working with and getting to know the committee staff (who are all so welcoming and friendly), experiencing the life on Capitol Hill, and exploring DC with the other interns.


Nikki Sanford

My name is Nikki Sanford and I just graduated from High Point University in High Point, NC, with degrees in Physics, Math, and a minor in Chemistry. I've worked on several research projects over the past couple years, and participated in an REU program in nuclear physics at Duke University last summer. I've also been interested in the connections between science and policy. I'm excited to have the opportunity to explore that interest, and work in DC this summer as a Mather Intern in the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling, playing guitar/drums, volleyball, snowboarding, reading, and going shopping. I'm looking forward to working on Capitol Hill, and experiencing the legislative process in action.

Katherine Stankus

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