Ms. Traister goes to Washington



MCLA students will gain some extra insight into federal policymaking from environmental studies professor Elena Traister, who last weekend attended an exclusive training session in Washington D.C. In addition to providing her with an in-depth understanding of the process, Traister says the experience will allow her to provide opportunities for those interested in pursuing work in federal policymaking.

As the recipient of the Switzer Environmental Fellowship - which aims to nurture environmental leaders who have the ability and determination to make a significant impact on the improvement of environmental quality - Traister was one of 30 to attend the exclusive federal policy training sessions. The purpose of the intensive training was to assist participants as they work with environmental issues of national significance.

Traister's research focuses on improving science-based approaches to river restoration by investigating limits to stream recovery following disturbances, and by directly monitoring the effects of stream restoration.

Because part of her teaching at MCLA is focused on environmental policy, it was important that Traister attend.

"This was an in-depth look at the federal policymaking process in Washington D.C. with the people who are making these policies," says Traister. "All of the people who went to the training are doing environmental work and environmental research. They are interested in how to communicate science to policymakers so that federal policy can better reflect the emerging science in the field that we consider important in pursuing."

The training included sessions on congressional budgeting and how the budget process affects policy outcomes, how to prepare effective communication with policymakers, and conversations with congressional staffers who provided tips on how to gain access to policymakers.

What's the biggest environmental issue that people are talking about on Capitol Hill? "I would say it is climate change, hands down," says Traister. Because of the understanding she gained, she came away from the training encouraged that she could make a difference.

"We have an appreciation of how policies are formed, perhaps based somewhat on science, but also based on economics and, to a large degree, politics and the re-election cycle," says Traister. "I think what I, and probably many of the fellows, came away with was a better understanding of the process and a better understanding of how we can be involved with that and hopefully influence it."

Traister's students also will benefit from her experience.

"Some of the workings of Washington D.C. are slightly different from what you might think. You find that there are a lot of nuances," she explains. "The insight is helpful. I think also having the connections for those students that are interested specifically in going into policymaking is important. This is another way that I can be better connected, and plug them into opportunities to further their interests."