Richa Patel ‘18 Tackles Technology Policy in State Department Internship

Richa Patel ‘18 is the first recipient of the Jenny Chang Public Policy Endowment Award. Created to honor the memory of Jenny Chang ’00, this fund supports Park Scholars pursuing public policy internships or employment in Washington, D.C. Patel, an aerospace engineering and political science double major with her sights on a career in science and technology policy, spent this past summer in our nation’s capital interning with the State Department’s Office of the Science & Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS).

While there, Patel conducted extensive research on technology that has been flagged as potentially disruptive – such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, gene editing, and smart cities – and crafted reports on how and why these technologies could impact U.S. foreign policy. She even attended interagency meetings at the White House on the topic of a financial database technology called blockchain.

“This experience sold me!” she said. “Some of my biggest takeaways are a wider understanding of the opportunities available for me in the science and technology policy field, a fantastic experience under great people where I got to do substantial and important work, and an extensive network of connections for when I inevitably return to D.C.”

Patel became aware of this internship during a previous trip to Washington: the Park Class of 2018 Learning Laboratory II. With a focus on the United States’ role in addressing infectious disease both domestically and internationally, Patel and her classmates met with the State Department’s Sapana Vora and Andrew Hebbeler. Vora, an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow (whose brother is Saket Vora ‘07), made time to speak individually with Patel about the fellowship and its managing office, STAS. Later, when Patel applied for the State Department internship, Andrew Hebbeler – a senior science, technology, and innovation adviser – reached out to provide additional information and assist with her security clearances.

As an entering freshman at NC State, Patel contemplated a career in law. She was intrigued by the roles both engineering and the democratic political process play in improving society, particularly humanity’s attempts to solve grand challenges such as space debris and costly, inefficient air travel.

“I have always held these dual interests in science and politics,” said Patel, “But I was unaware, especially in high school, that there were opportunities to pursue both.”

She credits her Park Faculty Mentor, political science professor Steven Greene – who advised Zack Hester ‘11 and other policy- and engineering-minded students – for helping her align her interests with potential academic and professional paths. Similarly, Scott Ferguson in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has encouraged Patel to consider developing her own research project exploring public policy implications of aerospace-related topics.

In addition to expanding her knowledge base within her major areas of study, Patel has spent the first half of her NC State career building her leadership skills. The summer following her freshman year, she worked as an assistant team lead at a Charlotte-based engineering camp for elementary and middle school students. Passionate about service and travel, she participated in Alternative Service Break trips to Guatemala and Nicaragua – the latter as a team leader – focused on gender inequalities, poverty, and housing. She also serves on committees with the Student Conduct Board and the Krispy Kreme Challenge.

Patel places a high value on her Park Scholarships experience.

“Without Learning Lab II, I may not have had this summer experience – which has allowed me to understand where I’d truly like to make a difference – and that opportunity is wholly thanks to the Park program,” Patel said. “While in D.C., I had the chance to reach out to Park alumni, all of whom were kind and super-willing to help. That’s what I appreciate most about the community: it’s full of people who have undergone amazing experiences and are more than happy to share them and provide advice.”