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Dayton Syme

Florida State University, SPS/APS Education Policy Fellow

Dayton will be working with the American Physical Society Office of Public Affairs and the US Department of Energy.

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

Final Reflections

It is very sad for me to say that the end of my internship has drawn to a close. I left on Wednesday to fly to Idaho where I proceeded to start a 4 day road trip with my dad all the way to Florida for my facilities training in grad school. On one hand it was sad that I had to leave. On another, I knew that there were big things in store for me.

With only being around for four days this week I had plenty to keep me busy, but on that last Sunday I wanted to make sure that I had the DC tourist experience. That morning I got up at 8am and I was out the door in 30 min. I walked south from the GW campus all the way down to the National Academy of Sciences, to the Einstein statue. I didn’t realize then that I was supposed to rub his nose for good luck; but thinking on it, I’m sure the man wouldn’t have cared for that sort of thing anyways. Next followed the Lincoln Memorial, which sadly was defaced by some ridiculous vandal. The Korean War Memorial was recently decorated from a 60th anniversary. Here’s a link: Afterwards was the Martin Luther King Memorial, that was, like many things under renovation. The FDR memorial was one of my favorites, and I can’t help but think that it is under appreciated for its beauty and profound coverage over one of our presidents. My most southern destination for that day was the Jefferson Memorial, and in the carved walls I found not only the Declaration of Independence but wonderfully apt quotes that I see as being relevant to this day.

At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, I went to an IMAX movie featuring the Hubble telescope. I am not one for 3-D movies, but for that movie, I will make an exception. I did a little back tracking to the Holocaust Museum, and I would have to say that it is a powerful museum that takes about 2 hours minimum for the main exhibit. With an hour before closing, I sprinted towards the Newseum (museum about news). It was ok, a little too much focus on the pop media side of life in my opinion. However, the photo wall of journalists who died while on assignment was rather astounding. Being only a couple blocks away, I went to the National Art Gallery. I sadly only had about an hour there, so I was only able to cover most of the sculpture art, and a very small fraction of the paintings. I finished at the National Portrait Gallery; at this point I had been touring the capitol for almost 11 hours. Let’s just say that every seat there was a good seat. By the time I dragged myself home, I can only faintly remember brushing my teeth and going to bed. But I do remember it was a wonderful sleep.

My last few days at the ED went off without a hitch. Monday, I sent out an excessive amount of emails to several people at the ED. Mainly, the emails were for getting things set for Camsie so that in my absence she would not be overwhelmed immediately by people rushing to speak with her. I also left a few things at my station for the next person from SPS to use when they take over my “STEMtern” position.

Later that afternoon I dabbled only briefly in lobbying. I felt that it would be a good experience for me to have since I would be in DC for only a few more days. But before those of you reading get some idea of under-the-table deal making, I will inform you that my cause was not of any nefarious type. I decided that I wanted to speak to my Federal representatives on the topic of increasing the access of internet for all Idahoans – a humanitarian topic in my opinion. There was even an alliteration that went with the cause; “The Improvement of Internet for Idahoans”. A great name if I say so myself. Pocatello, Idaho has been ranked as having the slowest internet in the nation and I wanted that to change. If you are interested in the ranking, then here’s the link:

In two of the offices I went to, I mostly spoke with staffers. They were all very kind and polite in speaking with me about a subject that I am sure they didn’t really take that seriously. Besides, I can only imagine some of the crazy things that people come into their offices to talk about. My final meeting was with Jim Risch’s office. Being that his was the only office where I could actually meet my senator it was pretty exhilarating. His staff was great as well, and certainly did their research on me before the meeting. Note: always remember that what comes up on a Google search can and probably will be referenced at some point in your life – laugh now but you’ll see when it happens to you. It was great to be heard, and I hope that even if I am not starting the big push to make internet better in Idaho, I at least brought some good ideas to the table.

On Tuesday I presented my final work to Camsie and Lily Clark, with the intention of hopefully leaving no stone unturned. Most of my projects were done and it looked like what I was unable to complete the next person could handle. At the end of the meeting both thanked me and expressed their gratitude towards me. I choked up a little bit from their words. They were wonderful mentors to me. They pushed me to do a good job and to hear that I might have done just that was powerful. This job was an opportunity that has been a wonderfully enlightening experience. It has changed my views and gave me the encouragement to do something great with my life, and possibly try to work again in DC at some point. In the mean time, I am expected to make a presentation of my internship at the American Association of Physics Teachers national meeting in Orlando in January. Wish me luck, and if you are interested in hearing me speak, I would suggest you sign up for the meeting.

Finally, there are a great many people I would like to mention and thank.

  • The other SPS interns: Caleb, Nikki, Jamie, Katherine, Darren, Fiona, Christine, Alec, Nicole, Alexandra, and Ro! You all were great, and I thank you for letting me be a fool in front of all of you.
  • The ED interns Abigail, Annie, Molly, and ED Fellow Emily. You were great to work with and very kind. I couldn’t have asked for better.
  • My fraternity brothers, thank you for shaping me into a man responsible enough to take this internship and your encouragement along the way.
  • The Berkeley kids, especially Ethan and Charlie. Thanks for welcoming a stranger so quickly and laughing at most of my jokes.
  • Anna Quider, that State Department meeting to this day follows me whenever I think of what the US Government has to do to improve US relations and the world. Your office does a lot of hard, calculating work and I thank you for it.
  • Elizabeth Hook (aka best Batman ever) for the support and kindness you have given me over the summer. Also, your extreme patience whenever it came to my blog posts (irony claimed as I am typing).
  • Kendra Redmond, you looked after us, SPS interns, diligently and compassionately. This all would be in shambles if you weren’t there to direct us. Congrats on the addition to your family and your hard work.
  • Jack Hehn, thank you for words and advice for a new person trying to transition into DC as quickly as possible. I wish we would have had more chances to talk, but I suppose there is always time in the future. Your dedication towards AAPT is astounding and I will see you once again in the near future.
  • Roman Czujko, you are a witty man who I should have spoken to more often. Thanks for listening to a couple of my crazy ideas, and please never change your office décor. I need something to reference for my grad student desk.
  • Francis Slakey, thank you for your advice and mentorship while I researched at the APS office. Your friendly attitude made me feel like I belonged there. I hope to talk to you sometime and ask how I can make the most of my life, the way you have made the most out of yours.
  • The great staff and people at Society of Physics Students, American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and everyone at the American Institute of Physics; thank you for all of the work that you do. Please know that I have the upmost respect and love for what you do to make life better for all physicists and their sciences.
  • The OPEPD office at the ED. You walk the tough line as you try and guide our education on the right path. I wish you all the best of luck and thank you for everything that you do.
  • Lily Clark, you are a great well of information, encouraging, and I wish I would have picked at your brain more during my internship at the ED. Congrats on your baby and I wish you and your family the best.
  • Camsie McAdams, you took the risk of having a complete novice working in your office and treated me better than most bosses I have ever had. Your driven attitude and friendliness is a combination I feel is lacking in much of the DC culture and should be praised more often. You also made sure that my time spent in DC was more than just work, and advertised my presence whenever you had the chance. Thank you. I hope your efforts are rewarded greatly, and your work seen as extremely paramount towards the success of America’s education and the culture of science.
  • Tyler Glembo, you sought me out and gave me a chance that I could never have dreamed up. You taught me so much more about DC and federal affairs than I would have ever been able to learn in a textbook. You placed me in a position that needed to be treated with the best of intentions and more importantly, you trusted me with it; a somber notion that strikes me with humility every time I think about it. You brought me a purpose to have over the summer and a realization that not all hard questions are in physics but on the hill as well. Thank you for being my patient mentor into a new world of politics.
  • Toni Sauncy, you have been my biggest fan during this entire internship and words cannot express what you have given me during the past 2 years of my time in SPS. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
  • Courtney Lemon, I would not be where I am if it weren’t for you. In fact, you have been a definition of a great friend, encouraging me on some of my greatest steps not only for my internship, but my applying to FSU as well. Thank you.
  • My parents, Scott and Patti, for letting me leave on a week’s notice to go out and have adventures in DC, leaving behind the last long vacation I would get to have with them for quite some time.
  • To those I forgot. I am sorry, but please know that as soon as you say something I would gladly extol all credit where it is due. Thank you all and God bless.

Week 7
July 22-26, 2013

This week has certainly been the best by far. By Thursday I had completed the remaining talking points that Camsie wanted. The only thing left is for them is to go through a review process with other internal people who specialize in each talking point’s topic, and checking to make sure that they are in line with the Department’s strategic philosophy. The final set of talking points should be ready by about Tuesday of next week, and from there added into our arsenal of political language.

On Wednesday, I probably had the best day of my internship so far. Camsie had been in talks with Miss America Mallory Hagan for a while to do an activity with the department of Education in support of STEM education. This Wednesday was when she and many elementary school children joined in for the ED’s “Let’s Read!, Let’s Move!” event. Mallory was to play the Sun in a simple dance about the planets orbiting the sun, where the children were the planets’ orbit. Later Miss America was joined by several other guests to read a children’s book about why Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

The other special guests who read were: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Senator Bennet, Senstor Isakson, and two time space faring astronaut George Zamka. Of the people I wanted to get my picture with, George Zamka was at the top. A friend gave me a shove to finally speak with him and get my picture taken with him. Still having a few diffraction glasses from a couple weeks previous I asked if he would mind if we wore these glasses, and he kindly agreed. Another person I got to meet was Shelley Canright who is the manager of Elementary, Secondary, and eEducation for NASA.  A wonderful person who, just like Zamka, also agreed to have a photo with of us wearing SPS diffraction glasses together.

Later that day, I was a part of a group of soon-to-be departing interns who were being given a chance to have their picture taken with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Being the boisterous person that I am, I wanted to make sure that my photo was special or different from what anyone else would have. Yet again the rainbow glasses were used, and yet again, it was awesome! I was later told that my photo was the best out of the group. I have yet to see it, but I am anxiously awaiting its arrival to judge for myself and frame it.

Friday was fantastic as well. I got to have what felt like a VIP meeting with the State Department on science education. I must thank Anna Quider and her associates for not only their information on STEM education but advice for grad school, as well. At lunch, I had a meeting with Phil Lippel from the MIT policy and inquire on several topics from other summer opportunities to stories and advice. The end of my week was at the Capitol Building where the interns Nikki and Katherine arranged for us a tour. Although I missed going to the Library of Congress, I still had fun.

Week 6
July 15-19, 2013

It has been a few very busy days at the office. I have finished a large portion of my projects that were set out for me at the beginning of the year. I have done summaries for both of the PCAST reports, talking points on various STEM subjects, and uploaded practically gigabytes worth of STEM related reports. Looking at it – as is commonly said around here – at 30,000 feet, I am paving a foundation for the next “STEM-tern” to take over when I’m gone. Like the name? It was created by a secretary in the office who called me that out of the blue. I rather like it, and hope it sticks.

On Wednesday, I had a fun going-back-to-my-roots moment when The Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD, where I work) was asked to go to a “Women in STEM Caucus.” We were also asked to bring in some hands on activities to make our booth more than just a table with fliers. My name was dropped in an email, and that’s when I had to think fast. Luckily, I threw out an example of using some diffraction glasses I could get from the Society of Physics Students and the higher-ups apparently loved it. Armed with about 250 diffraction glasses and colored LEDs, I would say that our table for the Department of Education was one of the better ones around. And I got an educational high whenever I had a chance to explain the glasses.

In my free time, I have been trying to take hold of every nearby (and FREE!) opportunity that I could take part in. Thursday I went to the Botanical Gardens right next to the Capitol building to take a look at the Corpse Flower that was blooming. Sadly, there was no smell of death. Then again, I don’t mean to seem too distraught over it, but when you go to see a flower called “The Corpse Flower”, you expect to at least smell something. Either way, it was a beautiful and large organism. At the time that I went to see the flower, its height was a little shy of six feet.

Friday appears to be pretty cool with a Food Truck Festival and Jazz in the Garden looking uninterrupted, but this weekend looks to be better with a trip to the Spy Museum and much more planned, but I’ll talk more about it next week. CLIFFHANGER!

Week 5
July 8-12, 2013

It has been very fun to meet and talk with all of the interns around the Department of Education. On Thursday, there was a 21+ intern social. We did what many people do in DC after work – we went to happy hour. I met about 20 interns from different departments and background. However, if someone needed to guess, a majority of people were either from Ohio or Virginia. At the very least, everyone loved what was done so much, that there is a push from people to do it again before the end of the month. I am not opposed to that in the very least.

Work at the ED has gotten more eventful. I have planned a meeting and set up about eight others for Camsie. I spoke with a fellow intern about tone of voice when communicating to outside entities connected with the Department of Education. I received some sage advice that there is no need to feel bad about putting someone off or having to reschedule. That may seem matter-of-fact, but being in that situation can be awkward.

Another experience I’ll never forget was when I had fill in at a meeting for my boss. It gave me some good in-the-field experience, and I can say I’ve asked a company’s president questions. That’s a first.

One of the most astounding things that I got to do this week was go to NASA Goddard Space and Flight Center. We got to tour all of these places that few people get to see. We looked into the cleanroom in which they built the Hubble Telescope and are now building the James Webb Telescope. We went inside of a giant centrifuge where they place satellites to test their strength against large accelerations. Near the centrifuge was the Wide-Field Camera 2 of the Hubble telescope that operated for 15 years, before being replaced in the 2002 service repair mission.

The Department of Education will be having a few cool events later but I would prefer to wait until they come and go before I start writing about them. In the meantime, it’s going to be a crazy next couple of weeks.

Week 4
July 1-5, 2013

Already past my fourth week, and coincidentally it was the Fourth of July week! I didn’t want to have any work over my 4 day weekend so I dug in and hammered through as much work as I could get done. And wonderfully enough, I finished three projects leading into Thursday.

Being in DC for the Fourth is a bit of a dream. Fiona, Jamie, Katherine, Ro, Caleb, Darren, and I went to the National Mall to see the fireworks. Much of the Mall around the Reflection Pool was fenced off, but we soon made it to an area in-between the Washington Monument and the World War Two Memorial. We arrived by about a quarter till eight, and found a nice shady spot that grew larger as the sun drew to dusk. We were greeted by a myriad of all-American tunes like the Isley Brothers’ song “Shout.”

After what felt like an eternal wait, the show began. It was dazzling; however, about two minutes in we remembered that some of us had diffraction glasses. They made the show far more wonderful, for every bright flash and sparkling ignition had its own beauty to look at; directly to each side of the blazing firework was the spectrum.

I caught a moment of surreal joy, right as the finale drew and the shockwave of each explosion smashed into me, I laughed hysterically. Not because of the explosions, but it was another moment to realize that I was in my nation’s capital, on the Fourth, being paid to do research that can have an effect on our nation’s science education policy. To me, that is the definition of fantastic and I couldn’t help but be pleased about it. That did not stop my other fellow interns from looking at me with a bewildered expression, and then start laughing themselves. I doubt for the same reason.

Leaving the Mall was a bit hectic, due to thousands of people leaving at the same time. But we decided to wait for 10 minutes and let the crowds disperse into the streets. As we were walking home, I couldn’t help but feel sad for the people who decided to try and drive their way out of the city. They had a long wait in store for themselves.

The rest of the weekend went splendidly. I had a chance to explore the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and see the Butterfly Exhibit, then to the folklife festival on the Mall. I walked farther down to the Botanical Gardens – which smelled amazing. I finished my traveling with a quick visit to the Air and Space Museum, which is always a great place for a physicist to visit. I do plan on going to that museum at least a couple of more times and seeing an IMAX movie or two.

To finish off my vacation I cooked some four tortillas and made some cheddar quesadillas with them, then later I made a Tres Leches cake. It was all very delicious and should save me from spending money in this super expensive town. At least I hope it will.

Week 3
June 24-28, 2013

Another fun week. I started at the Department of Education on Monday, and ever since, the week has flown by. I met my boss, Dr. Camsie McAdams – an all-around STEM education reformer. I would give you her entire bio, but she has done so much I think it would be better for you to just read about

As soon as I arrived, I was given several projects. They ranged from 1 page summaries to talking points, all based on STEM education. Speaking of talking points, I turned in my first ever set on Wednesday summarizing the main goals of the Co-STEM reorganization and implementation.

I have been looking into several bills and topics brought up by Congress recently. I am hoping to have my next two sets of talking points done by Monday or Tuesday. They will focus on how these bills relate to STEM education. I will also be taking a closer look into H.R.2356 dealing with computer science; an often overlooked field, even though it’s expected to be the largest contributor to the increase of STEM jobs in the near future.

Today, I read a research study discussing the bleak landscape of underrepresented minorities in STEM and SEB (Social, Economic, and Behavioral Sciences) when it comes to the debt they get for earning their degree. It goes further by comparing all race groups and their genders. Here’s the link:

The staff here are extremely kind, and have given me an incredible amount of advice and help. A tip for those who want to intern at the Department of Education: learn Outlook, it may be the most constantly used program around.

Week 2
June 17-21, 2013

The past two weeks working at the APS Policy Office have been incredibly informative. Tyler Glembo has been an wonderful teacher, and has shown me much more than what I knew in the world of Science Policy; and delving further, Science Education Policy.  I’ll admit, being an incoming intern, I thought that I was going to be a mail sorter who might type up a report here or there. But instead, I have been preparing to start at the Dept of Education. It’s been a storm of presentations, meetings, and reading. However, that storm has given me a new perspective on what the junction between science and government looks like.

On the topic of the Dept of Ed, I was given a notice that I will start on Monday! I practically danced as soon as I saw the email. Soon after the notice, my soon-to-be-boss Dr. Camsie McAdams invited me to sit in on a meeting between the Dept. of Ed and representatives from many of the other agencies that were affected by the proposed STEM Realignment. To be given the chance to be in the same room as many top STEM education administrators is unimaginable compared to what I thought I would be doing as an intern.

In the meantime, my weekend will consist of me reading even more STEM Education related papers such as: CoSTEM Report, Rise Above the Gathering Storm (original and revisited), and the PCAST report Engage to Excel. To quote Stan Lee, “Excelsior!”

Week 1
June 10-14, 2013

This is the plan for what I hope will bring a glorious beginning in improving our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education system.

About 3 weeks ago my life took a turn towards something amazing.

Recently a graduate of Idaho State University, I have since been accepted for grad school at Florida State University for continuing my education in the fall for a Ph. D in Molecular Biophysics. Because I would be moving from Pocatello, Idaho to Tallahassee, Florida, my family and I began to prepare for me moving. My dad and I on an impulse trip went down to look at the housing market and the school.

During our visit, I received an email that was a followup for my application for the John Mather Internship through the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Intrigued, I contacted them. What was offered was a chance to help the Department of Education (DoEd) with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education policy. Due to the recent STEM Realignment set out by the Executive Administration on April 10th (see last week’s post), there was a proposed 53.9% increase to the budget for the DoEd for K-12 STEM education efforts. Being offered such an opportunity to help the United States on the federal level felt to me like an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime. So of course, I said yes.

The next nine days afterwards were – what I can only describe as – a flurry of emails, papers, and phone calls that led to me to boarding an airplane to Washington DC at 5 on a Sunday morning.

Upon arriving, there was only one word I frequently used to describe my feelings at the time; excited. Being an SPS Associate Zone Councilor for the past two years, I had already been to DC and the American Institute for Physics building. But I have never gotten over the feeling of being a part of an organization that has its headquarters only a few Metro stops from the heart of DC. A part of me kept saying to check and make sure everything was real or – for you fans of the movie Inception – spin a top. But it is real, I am here, and I am humbled by everyone’s shear kindness and help I have received over the past week.

After settling in, I have been set to work under Dr. Tyler Glembo, the Government Relations Specialist for the American Physical Society (APS). I now have a temporary office located on one of the higher floors in the National Press Building – and it has a window! For the time being, I have projects relating to what the new policies for the DoEd are (i.e. STEM Master Teacher Corps, STEM Innovative Networks, etc.), how they work, and what is next for them in the legislative process.

I realize I am in a unique position, and what I will learn on this internship will be invaluable. My biggest hope is to simply do my best for the DoEd and foster relationships with all of the people I meet along the way will last beyond just this internship. Wish me luck!

Nikki Sanford

A recent graduate from Idaho State University, I have obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Physics and two Associate's of Science Degrees in Math and Chemistry. I will be continuing my education to Florida State University for a Ph.D in Molecular Biophysics starting in the fall. In my undergraduate studies, I was lucky enough to have the free time to join several organizations including: American Nuclear Society, Kappa Sigma Fraternity, and Society of Physics Students (which is the wonderful group that is allowing me to take part on - what I am certain will be - an amazing internship).

My research backgrounds include: Experimentation on Radiation Resistant Halobacteria (NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates, Summer 2012) and Studies into a Compact Ultrafast Electron Accelerator (Fall 2012). During this summer internship, I look forward to researching STEM Education Policy with the Department of Education.

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