An expert in science, technology, medicine, and social inequality, Alondra Nelson is the Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research center in Princeton, New Jersey. She currently heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and is Deputy Assistant to President Joe Biden.
Established the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1976. The OSTP advises the President and others in the President’s Executive Office on science, engineering, and technology aspects of the economy , national security, internal security, health, external relations and the environment.
During a recent visit to Chicago in May, Dr. Nelson toured the science and technology facilities at the State University of Chicago and participated in a panel discussion led by Project Exploration, Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative. The Chicago Defender spoke with Dr. Nelson about his recent visit to Chicago and the White House’s mission to create equity in STEM.
Chicago Defender: Can you tell me about the Biden administration’s strategy to advance equity in STEM?
Dr. Nelson: On the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, the very first presidential executive order issued was an Executive Order on Promoting Equity and Using the Work of Government to Advance Equity in American Society. If it was about racial equity, it also included other forms of equity. There was something quite historic about an administration and its first articulation with the public centering on the issue of fairness. So it gave us the opportunity to think about science and technology policy issues from an equity perspective.
How can we have more diverse science and technology workplaces? How can we ensure that more opportunities for more people who want to work in science and technology are provided through government work, as well as using science and technology for equity? So are there ways to use scientific and technological innovations to ensure that more people have access to health care services through things like telemedicine.
So this is an opportunity, and I think, a historic opportunity to take leadership from the president and vice president on equity and put that at the center of the science and technology policy space. it’s kind of the larger guiding framework for our work here at OSTP. I believe it helps us drive more expansively, things around, national competitiveness, careers, economic opportunity and prosperity for more people as science and technology drives all of American society. and global.
Chicago Defender: With your recent visit to Chicago, what were the goals and objectives of your time here?
Dr. Nelson: The goals and objectives were to think of a place and a certain community, to get out of Washington and go beyond the beltway. We wanted to listen and learn from communities that think about science and technology and use innovative ways. We wanted to learn more about the health professions and the role of education, and career and workforce pathways as it relates to these things, and finally connect with communities and networks of people who took equity in these things seriously. It was a learning experience for us and a chance to have the opportunity to talk about some of the administration’s priorities, in our science and technology policy, and to hear and learn how we can build partnerships with local communities in many sectors.
Chicago Defender: During this trip, you also spoke with lawyers about artificial intelligence and how to protect the public. What are some of the Biden administration’s privacy and artificial intelligence initiatives?
Dr. Nelson: This is a priority for the Biden Harris administration, and there is growing awareness. Government is certainly an American society where artificial intelligence is becoming more of an automated system becoming a bigger part of the work that we do. Over the past few weeks, I think there has been some really promising movement on the part and leadership of the administration. For example, HUD and the Department of Justice have released guidance on housing, ratings, and housing discrimination that features strong language on what algorithmic discrimination shouldn’t be, what should, and shouldn’t be. more. More recently, the DOJ and FCC issued guidance on unemployment and the use of automated algorithms and systems in employment.
I’m really proud that the Biden Harris administration has been a true leader in making civil rights and liberties issues along with science and technology and artificial intelligence issues a priority.
Chicago Defender: There is a lot of talk about the incredible number of opportunities surrounding STEM. What is the White House Science Office doing to attract more people to STEM education and sustainable careers?
Dr. Nelson: Thank you very much for this question, because it is one of the things that we are working very hard on and that we care about so much. Last year, we launched an initiative called Time Now Advances Equity in Science and Technology. the aim of this initiative was to identify, develop and amplify the type of interventions that can make science and technology, education, workforce pathways more equitable and accessible. we spoke to many different communities and stakeholders. Part of my visit to the Chicago area was definitely learning more about how people succeed. what are the best practices around a truly inclusive accessible stem ecosystem? And are there things to learn there that we could extend to the national level?
So we’ve been working on this for almost a year and we plan to release a national stem equity strategy. We will also have a kind of public roundtables, working with different sectors to think about best practices and working together much like the model we see with the exploration of the project to form a strategy that connects these different sectors and cases of education, public education and community education elements, and labor elements. And the goal here is that we want to provide sustainable opportunities for as many people as possible in science, technology, engineering, math, and health professions. But people also need to be able to do it in a way that supports them, that helps them thrive. And also understand that you know, there should be different kinds of lanes and bridges on and off the path of the rod.
So, you know, it should be okay for someone to, you know, go and have to take care of an elderly parent or have to take time off to take care of the kids and not have to, you know, think they can’t no longer have a way to stem to some extent. So the question is, you know, what is the role of government and to help coordinate and really spark the national conversation and national attention, what government needs to do in partnership with the not-for-profit sector, the public schools, you know, the museum and kind of the Science Center sector, philanthropy and so on, to create the conditions for people to have a kind of fulfilling life, you know, in science and technology and in any way that makes sense to them. This administration takes equity very seriously in its policy development and all policy work.