Engineering professor to spend year as US foreign policy adviser
Arizona State University professor B.L. Ramakrishna will spend a year as an adviser to the U.S. government on science and technology issues related to the nation’s foreign policy interests.
Ramakrishna has been selected to serve as a Jefferson Science Fellow, an assignment to advise officials of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He will begin those duties in August.
He is the first faculty member from an Arizona university to be awarded the prestigious fellowship in the program’s 10-year history.
Ramakrishna is a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.
He is among 13 scientists, engineers and physicians from institutions of higher education chosen for the 2013-2014 class Jefferson Science Fellows. Candidates for the positions are nominated by either the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering or the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
“It is a privilege to be given an opportunity to serve at the State Department and USAID, working on various science, technology and innovation issues that will help guide our international relations and help advance U.S. leadership at this critical time in history,” Ramakrishna says. “I am excited that I will be contributing to capacity building and forging vibrant partnerships for sustainable development around the world.”
Jefferson Science Fellows will be based in Washington, D.C. during their one-year fellowship terms, but likely will travel regularly to other countries on U.S. foreign policy missions.
“You sometimes are designated to be an adviser on particular issues or topics, but also you can be assigned to advise on issues related to various regions of the world,” Ramakrishna says.
Global environmental challenges
He has expressed his interest in being involved in U.S. foreign policy matters involving East Asia and the Pacific Rim region, as well as India and Southeast Asia.
Ramakrishna’s interests stem from his partnership over the last decade with scientists and engineers in the Pacific Rim – mainly China, Taiwan and Japan.
Participating in foreign-policy missions in these regions could be especially beneficial to ASU, he says, because the university is already actively engaged with China and Vietnam in various research and education efforts, and is looking to expand partnership efforts to the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
Ramakrishna says he is also interested in policy implications involving environmental nanotechnology.
“Nowhere are the needs for an integrated approach to technology, social issues and global policy more important than in environmental nanotechnology because of its potential to be a double-edged sword,” he says. “Moreover, the environment does not recognize the borders that are determined somewhat arbitrarily by humans, hence international understanding and cooperation is critical to solving global environment challenges.”
Those selected as Jefferson Science Fellows are chosen not only for expertise and leadership in their fields, but for interest in global issues, policy-making and promoting relations across cultures.
Ramakrishna says he was recommended for the position by a colleague at the National Academy of Engineering familiar with his work as director of the Grand Challenge Scholars program at ASU, and was strongly encouraged to apply for the fellowship.
The Grand Challenge Scholars program recruits high-performing students to pursue a course of study designed to prepare them to contribute to solving what the national academy has defined as the grand engineering challenges facing the world in the 21st century.
Ramakrishna says the program’s international perspective on engineering, science and technological endeavors likely played a role in government officials seeing him as a good candidate for a national advisory position.
Conduit to national leaders
His assignment as a U.S. government adviser is an opportunity to bolster ASU’s mission as a research university, says Barry Ritchie, vice provost for academic personnel.
“Enhancing linkages between leading major research universities interested in solving major global challenges and the federal agencies that are equally interested in solving those problems is of extreme importance,” Ritchie says. “Dr. Ramakrishna’s selection as a Jefferson Science Fellow provides ASU another conduit to advance solutions between key federal policymakers and ASU scholars.”
Ramakrishna has been on the faculty at ASU since 1985, arriving after serving as a post-doctoral fellow at the Swiss National Science Foundation and earning a doctoral degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India.
During his years at ASU, he has been a member of the advisory board for the National Institutes of Health Nanoinstrumentation Projects and served as a fellow in the German Academic Exchange Service program.
He has been director of the Down to Earth K-12 teaching project and the Interactive Nano-Visualization for Science and Engineering Education program – both supported by the National Science Foundation.
In addition, he has been a guest professor at the Center for Excellence in Nanoscience at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Ramakrishna is also one of the Diane and Gary Tooker Professors in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, who are designated to lead education outreach efforts to strengthen K-12 students’ interest in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
After their one-year, full-time assignments as foreign policy advisers, Jefferson Science Fellows are expected to remain available to the U.S. government as consultants for short-term projects for the next five years – offering opportunities to make contributions to U.S. foreign policy over the long term.
Ramakrishna says that during his national service assignment he hopes to advance U.S. national interests around the world by focusing on issues related to the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges.
He wants to demonstrate to world leaders how science, engineering and technological progress can have a global impact on solving societal problems and providing a solid foundation for wise public policymaking.
“We are delighted that the expertise of professor Ramakrishna is being recognized through this Jefferson Science Fellowship,” says Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “He is committed to advancing innovations in science and engineering education through student-research partnerships, visualization-based technologies and leading-edge telecommunications at ASU and beyond.”