Conference will discuss space policies of the future
Marc Canellas has always wanted to be an astronaut.
His interest in space policy led Canellas, now a senior in mechanical and aerospace engineering, to a summer spent studying the policies of human space travel as part of the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) program.
His experience at WISE inspired the idea of a conference to talk about the intersection of science and policy. “Engineering Connections between Politics and Science for the 21st Century,” will bring together researchers, politicians and professionals to discuss a range of issues on March 13, 2012.
“I just had a dream and it happened,” Canellas said. “If this conference works out then maybe I’ll really be an astronaut.”
Christopher “Kit” Bond, a former United States senator, will be a keynote speaker at the event, along with U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, the only physicist in Congress, and Shawn Lawrence Otto, an advocate of greater influence for science on policy.
“It’s definitely grown. It’s crazy,” Canellas said, laughing. “I’m emailing people and I have to tell them no because the panels are full.”
Panel topics will include sustainable engineering, government funding for research and development, patent law, STEM education and the federal and commercial space industry.
“It really has nothing to do with me. I’m just the idea,” Canellas said. “It was just an idea in my head and now it’s real.”
Cerry Klein, an MU professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, will be on the panel titled “How Policies Can Stimulate Sustainable Engineering.” Klein is also the facilitator of the sustainable energy initiative for Mizzou Advantage.
After Canellas had been in Washington, D.C., for his internship, he stopped by to talk with Klein. Canellas heard that Klein worked at the National Science Foundation in D.C. and wanted to ask him about his experience there. “One of the things I mentioned to him is how little politics is influenced by science and how engineers need to get involved in politics and policy,” Klein said. “We can come up with all the new technologies we want — but bad policy can make it difficult for them to be implemented.
Canellas heard a lot of the same things from people he met in Washington. “This is a direct result of my experience this summer,” he said. “Everyone I met talked about how it was so important to get engineers to understand the political process.”
Klein said he is looking forward to the conference and predicted that several of the panels would be exciting. “What Marc’s done is marvelous,” Klein said. “He has a very good mix of people on both sides.”
Klein made it clear to Canellas that he’d help in any way he could. “I was just amazed that he had taken it and run with it,” Klein said, noting how impressed he was that Canellas had been able to find the time and energy. “He’s put together an amazing conference.”
Canellas joked that he needs “a time machine and a secretary” to keep up with everything. “This is something that’s exciting and some of my classes are not so exciting,” he said.
He also is in charge of finding speakers for the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, serves as an ambassador for the College of Engineering, works on his capstone and performs astrophysics research through the McNair Scholars Program. He also plays intramural and pickup soccer.
“I try to have a real life sometimes,” Canellas said.
One of Canellas’ goals for the conference is to encourage students of all disciplines to think about the connections between them. “There’s almost an invisible wall on Jesse Quad,” he commented on the divide between engineering and non-engineering students.
He sees this as a problem not just for Mizzou, but also for the country as a whole. “As long as engineers, political scientists, economists and journalists don’t realize that we need to work together, we won’t solve theses problems,” Canellas said. “Engineers are seen as sort of the saviors of humanity, but to say we’ve done it alone is a lie.”
Canellas said he thinks engineers could serve a unique role in policy-making, describing engineering as “a problem solving degree.”
“We’re trained to take a blank piece of paper and find the answer to a problem,” Canellas said. “And where do we see the biggest problems in this country? It’s usually in politics.”
Because of his interest in space policy, Canellas is especially looking forward to the panel titled “Impact of Policy on the Commercial and Federal Space Industry,” which features two former astronauts who now teach at MU: Linda Godwin, a professor of physics, and Steve Nagel.
Nagel, who now teaches at the College of Engineering and works as a retention specialist, said he’s looking forward to the conference.
“It’ll be an interesting discussion,” Nagel said. “I hope I can stay for more than just the space panel.”
Canellas is very passionate about human space flight and the possibilities for such ventures to bring people around the world together. “I get goose bumps just talking about it.”
The next step on his path to the ultimate goal of getting a human to Mars, Canellas is going to get his doctorate in aerospace engineering. He’s already been accepted to Stanford, Georgia Tech and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The conference is a joint venture by the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society. William Horner, a professor of political science at MU, is the adviser of Pi Sigma Alpha and helped Canellas develop the conference.
“This will show students that if you have an idea there are people who will help,” Canellas said.
Horner said that he’s been impressed with the work students have put into making the conference happen. “I really like that it was an undergraduate who came up with the idea,” Horner said. “I’ve been really gratified to see undergrads working so hard on something like this.”
Canellas said he hopes the conference will be an ongoing event. “There are so many interactions on campus that we can talk about,” he said. “It’s going to be one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in my life.”