Reflecting on the "end" of the Obama OSTP

Last night The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy held its farewell party for all current staff and Obama Administration OSTP Alumni. It was extremely bitter sweet. 

On one hand I feel SO proud and grateful to have worked for the most science and technology literate President and the most ambitious Science Advisor in my lifetime thus far; I feel so lucky to have worked closely with the concentration of high caliber colleagues and friends at OSTP working to empower a network of innovators within and outside government, to deliver sound science and technology policy on a staggering number of topics, and build coalitions to accelerate and sustain policy implementation. This A-team group of alumni won't stop working for good even if they're no longer in the White House.

However I can't shake the feeling that this very well could be the MOST science and technology forward Administration, and thus most strongly supported OSTP, we will EVER HAVE in my lifetime which leads me to wish I had used my time there to do even more (note: I really hope I'm wrong and we see a "geek in chief" in the White House again). Don't get me wrong, I am so, so proud of what our community was able to accomplish for Open Innovation over the last 8 years including the 2 years I held the open innovation role at the White House. In fact, also last night, the President signed the first crowdsourcing and citizen science authority into law (in the COMPETES reauthorization) which is HUGE for creating further momentum for OI in the government. OI has a sound legal basis all around (for prizes and citizen science) which is critical to continuing to scale these approaches within government. But for each and every one of us there are moments to harness in one's life where you have the opportunity and the RESPONSIBILITY to do the most you possibly can and in reflection I know I had some gas left in my tank when I left OSTP. So at this moment while feeling so proud I also wish I could have done more.

OSTP led a remarkable amount of science and technology work over the last 8 years. And we were able to do this in large part to the level of support from the top it received as well as its sheer size. More people = more hours to get more work done. To put it in perspective, this OSTP was the largest OSTP by more than a factor of 2--EVER. And that's not because staff were working less hard, but because we worked SO HARD to do SO MUCH for science and technology at a truly amazing scale. This week, the White House released a memo detailing its high level accomplishments and recommendations for the next administration: https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/cabinet/exit-memos/office-science-and-technology-policy. If you really want to be awed, you should read the OSTP impact report released in mid 2016, that describes the top 100 OSTP accomplishments, including prize and citizen science work: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/21/impact-report-100-examples-president-obamas-leadership-science). I hope we have another empowered OSTP again in my lifetime that can get this sheer amount of work done for science and technology. Our country and the world need it.

With these mixed emotions I am grateful to keep serving the public's S&T interests at NASA with a rockstar team, am so thankful for the lifelong friends I made at OSTP, and I hope someday to get another chance to flex the S&T policy muscles I honed in my time at the Obama OSTP in an even higher impact way, where I use every bit of gas in the tank.

Incentivizing Innovation: A New Toolkit for Federal Agencies

Incentivizing Innovation: A New Toolkit for Federal Agencies

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the General Services Administration (GSA) are launching a new Challenges and Prizes Toolkit to help Federal agencies increase the use and sophistication of incentive prizes even further.

Collaboration Gives Federal Government Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing a New Home on the Web

Collaboration Gives Federal Government Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing a New Home on the Web

Yesterday, in conjunction with the 6th White House Science Fair, the White House announced that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has partnered with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS), a Trust instrumentality of the U.S. Government, to launch CitizenScience.gov as the new hub for citizen science and crowdsourcing initiatives in the public sector.

Announcing the “Fellows in Innovation:” A Coalition Contributing Fresh Ideas on National Priorities

Announcing the “Fellows in Innovation:” A Coalition Contributing Fresh Ideas on National Priorities

One of the Federal government’s great assets is the talented cadre of individuals who join its ranks each year as part of a variety of fellowship programs. Participants in these programs bring enthusiasm, new ideas, and fresh perspectives to Federal departments and agencies every day. Last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) convened a workshop of 100 participants in fellowship programs that place individuals in the Federal government to discuss how to apply creative 21st century tools to their fellowship projects, and how to use these tools to inspire and ignite innovation in government.

Applying the Innovation Toolkit to Bring Cancer Nanotechnology Inventions to Market

To support the United States as a nation of innovators, the Administration has introduced many tools to the Federal government’s innovation toolkit. As described in the Strategy for American Innovation, these tools are aimed at uncovering the best ideas, wherever they may lie, and creating opportunities for those ideas to find their way to the marketplace. It is rare to find a program that opens that toolbox as wide as the Nanotechnology Startup Challenge for Cancer (NSC2) — an open-innovation competition designed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the non-profit Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) to bring promising cancer nanotechnology inventions to market.

Building Momentum for Open Innovation

Building Momentum for Open Innovation

The White House, the Federal Community of Practice on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing (CCS), and the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Challenge.gov program have been working diligently over the last two years to deliver on previous commitments. This work was highlighted in a series of events this fall designed to build momentum both within and outside the Federal government for more ambitious, cross-sector applications of open innovation approaches.

The People and Teams that Power High-Impact Incentive Prizes

The Administration is helping organize two events this week to celebrate the success of Challenge.gov, recognize the importance of public-sector prizes, and catalyze the next-generation of ambitious prizes. On Wednesday, October 7, the White House, the Case Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and Georgetown University will host an event titled “All Hands on Deck: Solving Complex Problems through Prizes and Challenges” that will provide Federal, state, and local government leaders and private-sector supporters with information and tools on how to effectively use incentive prizes to improve outcomes in addressing complex social, policy, and technological challenges in national priority areas. On Thursday, October 8, the General Services Administration will host a community of more than 300 prize practitioners to celebrate the great accomplishments of public-sector prizes at a five-year anniversary event for Challenge.gov.

This October, the White House Celebrates Over $150 Million in Prize Competitions Since 2010

This October, the White House Celebrates Over $150 Million in Prize Competitions Since 2010

To celebrate the accomplishments of prize competitions and to inspire the next generation of ambitious, cross-sector prizes, the White House, the General Services Administration (GSA), nonprofits, and academic institutions will host back-to-back events in Washington, DC, one on October 7 and the other on October 8, in Washington DC.  These two events will highlight the impact of open innovation in the Federal government and across sectors, as well as celebrate the successes of Challenge.gov

Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People

Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People

Only a small fraction of Americans are formally trained as “scientists.” But that doesn’t mean that only a small fraction of Americans can participate in scientific discovery and innovation.  Citizen science and crowdsourcing are approaches that educate, engage, and empower the public to apply their curiosity and talents to a wide range of real-world problems. To raise awareness of these tools and encourage more Americans to take advantage of them, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council will host “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” a live-webcast forum, on Wednesday, September 30th.

Public Sector Prizes and Challenges Show Increased Sophistication, Ambition and Use: A Fiscal Year 2014 Progress Report

Public Sector Prizes and Challenges Show Increased Sophistication, Ambition and Use: A Fiscal Year 2014 Progress Report

Today, OSTP released its fourth annual comprehensive report detailing the use of prize competitions and challenges by Federal agencies to spur innovation, engage citizen solvers, address tough problems, and advance their core missions. This report details the remarkable results from 97 prize competitions and challenges offered by 30 agencies under a variety of authorities in FY 2014 as required by Section 105 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (COMPETES) added Section 24 (Prize Competitions) to the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (Stevenson-Wydler).

Growing the Network of Innovators in Government

Growing the Network of Innovators in Government

Participants in a variety of Federal fellowship programs bring enthusiasm, new ideas, and fresh perspectives to Federal departments and agencies every day. Last week, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) convened a workshop to teach 100 current participants in Federal fellowship programs how to apply creative 21st-century tools to their fellowship projects, and to use these tools to inspire and ignite innovation in government.

21st-Century Public Servants: Using Prizes and Challenges to Spur Innovation

21st-Century Public Servants: Using Prizes and Challenges to Spur Innovation

Last month, the Challenge.gov program at the General Services Administration (GSA), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)’s Innovation Lab, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and a core team of Federal leaders in the prize-practitioner community began collaborating with the Federal Community of Practice for Challenges and Prizes to develop the other half of the open innovation toolkit, the prizes and challenges toolkit. In developing this toolkit, OSTP and GSA are thinking not only about the information and process resources that would be helpful to empower 21st-century public servants using these tools, but also how we help connect these people to one another to add another meaningful layer to the learning environment.

Citizen Science is Everywhere, including the White House

Citizen Science is Everywhere, including the White House

The 5th White House Science Fair, the gave the Obama Administration and a broader community of companies, non-profits, and others an opportunity to announce new steps to increase the ability of students and members of the public to participate in the scientific process through citizen science.  One of these commitments came from the White House itself, showing that anyone, anywhere can participate in citizen science!

Citizen Science Contributes to Advances in Scientific Understanding

Citizen Science Contributes to Advances in Scientific Understanding

Every day, citizens like you help career scientists advance scientific discovery and understanding of the world around us. Two recent success stories demonstrate the enormous value of citizen science contributions. 

Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government

Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government

On November 21, 2014, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) kicked off development of the Toolkit with a human-centered design workshop. Human-centered design is a multi-stage process that requires product designers to engage with different stakeholders in creating, iteratively testing, and refining their product designs. The workshop was planned and executed in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management’s human-centered design practice known as “The Lab” and the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FCPCCS), a growing network of more than 100 employees from more than 20 Federal agencies.

How should we coach the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists?

This week an undergrad from the University of Florida (my alma mater) reached out to me for some advice on getting into MIT for grad school and working for NASA. In writing the response it got me thinking about how we should be coaching the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists to be preparing for their careers. I’ve copied and pasted the advice I gave to the young student below, based on my personal experience and path. Photo Credit: Vanderbilt

I’m curious what others think though. How would you give a freshman in college advice for prepping for a career at NASA or in any other science and technology job? Do you agree with me? Disagree? What other tactical pieces of advice did I miss? Is this advice universal or are there pieces of advice that should differ depending on geography, background, gender or other considerations?

Freshman Physics Student at UF: "What are some crucial steps to take now if I want to get into a school like MIT or get a job at NASA?"

My Response: “For MIT, keep your grades up and get a sense of what you want to study in grad school. A compelling research proposal is KEY to getting into a grad program at MIT. The dirty little secret though is that you can change your direction once you get in. You just have to write a good one to get in. Use your time in undergrad to explore many different topics and classes. Get to know your professors so you have good recommendations. Don't just rely on grades--actually develop relationships with professors you have classes with or do research with. If you get along with one well, ask them to be your mentor. You are really smart for starting to think about these things as a freshman. You have plenty of time to figure out what intrigues you and develop relationships. Your recommendations, grades, and research statement are critical to getting into MIT based on my experience. Furthermore, once you think you know what topics you want to pursue for grad school, start researching the professors at MIT and their research groups that are involved in those topic areas. Reach out to some of the students in their labs to understand their work better. During your junior year make a trip up to MIT and schedule appointments with the faculty who's work you like and who you might want to do research under in graduate school. Have them know you before you even apply.

On top of grades, recommendations, and research topic, stay well rounded. Take some politics classes or a foreign language class. Stay well rounded outside the classroom. I joined a sorority to keep me social and was involved in student government. I hung out with more than just scientists and engineers. Also, travel if you can. Do a study abroad program and see a different part of the world and experience different cultures. I was never abel to do a study abroad but I did backpack Europe on the cheap for a few months right after graduation. One of the most shaping experiences of my life. Travel, friends outside of your academic area, and making sure to schedule in social activities is key to developing your emotional intelligence and ability to work with many types of people. That will be a critical skill for your future career. It's important to have PEOPLE skills and not just smarts.

And while all this stuff is swimming in your head remember that college is about having fun as much as it is for prepping for your career. Sometimes careers are a combination of hard work, luck and seizing opportunities when they come. Despite your most well laid out plans, the path might look different than you thought. Resiliency, adaptability and curiosity are really critical skills nowadays. College should prepare you to be adaptable, curious, good with people, and intelligent (emotionally and mentally). So don't put too much pressure on yourself. Do your best to study topics you find interesting and learn how to learn. Too often we just study for the test and don't really learn. Learn how to learn. You'll do it for the rest of your career. That's a skill employers and graduate programs will look for.

Also for space specific stuff, you should try to get involved in the NASA Social activities (follow them on twitter) and also if you're not already find the people the participate locally in things like Yuri's Night. Those fellow space nerds are a great network to have and great people to help you get connected to what’s going on in space). Apply to a summer internship or co-op program at one of the centers. Email NASA engineers and researchers at centers and see if they’d be willing to grab coffee with you and talk about their work. And never be afraid to reach out to people doing a job you think you might want to do (like you did with me). Building your network through those types of informational interviews is really smart.

To me, the key really is learning how to learn and growing your network. Experts in particular know what they don’t know and know when to ask someone a question. You shouldn’t strive to be perfectly qualified from the beginning. You can’t possibly be. You should strive to develop the tools you’ll need to be able to grow and effectively implement projects throughout your career. The intangibles are just as important as the tangibles (grades, test scores, etc) but they will be infinitely more critical as a foundation for the rest of your career. And you only live once, so you should make sure to enjoy the ride :)

Good luck, and Go Gators!”

Featured in Popular Mechanics: How to Make NASA Cool Again

  Photo Courtesy of Philip Friedman

I am honored to be featured in the the August 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics. This issue has a series about "How to Make Anything". NASA's work in prizes, challenges and crowdsourcing is featured in a piece entitled: "How to Make NASA Cool Again".

Here's the text:

"At some point between the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the end of the manned shuttle program in 2011, NASA became uncool. Once regarded as the wild geniuses leading us bravely into the future, the agency earned a reputation as insular, wasteful, and out of touch.

Naturally, they're looking to change that perception. The agency recently expanded its use of challenges and crowdsourcing to include more opportunities for regular Joes (citizen scientists, if you can bear the term) to submit their ideas. In 2012, it also hired Jenn Gustetic, a vivacious woman with an aerospace engineering degree and a master's in technology policy from MIT, to engage the public as the first-ever Challenges and Prizes program executive.

In this role, Gustetic, 32, uses her brains, charm, and wicked networking skills to increase grassroots participation in NASA's far-ranging mission. In the process, she's breaking down the wall that once separated a massive bureaucracy from the people it was supposed to serve. "It's my role to engage the public and put together nontraditional alliances to solve tough technology problems," she says. "NASA is opening itself up. We're inviting the public to be a meaningful participant in our business, our projects. This wasn't the way things were done, but it's the norm now."

One little problem Gustetic is helping to solve is the threat of an asteroid impact, which NASA has deemed worthy of intensive study as part of a larger initiative that includes not only redirecting space rocks but also sending humans to study them. The Asteroid Data Hunter contest, which wrapped in August, offered awards of up to $35,000 to individuals who advance the development of algorithms to identify asteroids in imagery from ground-based telescopes.

Another of Gustetic's responsibilities is to rally teams for NASA's International Space Apps Challenge. This year, more than 8,000 people in 95 cities took part in the third annual two-day hackathon to develop tech related to deep-space exploration, manned missions, rovers and more. "It was a historic collaboration between a government and the public," says Mike Caprio, cofounder of Space Apps NYC, the main stage of this year's event. Teams of technologists of every stripe, from computer programmers to physicists, arrived at universities and labs all over the world to compete. After a long weekend, a few left with impressive CV fodder. The rest left impressed with their host."