Victoria Gunderson, Ph.D.
2012-2013 ACS Congressional Fellow
Victoria Gunderson earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University in December of 2011. Her doctoral research focused on artificially replicating the stages of photosynthesis to inform the design of materials for use in solar energy conversion. Victoria has also worked with UOP, LLC. a multinational petrochemical company and was a Mirzayan Science and Technology Fellow in the Fall of 2011. As an ACS Congressional Fellow, Gunderson worked in the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee, where she will worked on energy issues. Read about Victoria’s fellowship experience.
Year-End Fellowship Report
The following memo offers some highlights, insights, and reflections on my year as an ACS Congressional Fellow. As previously noted in my mid-year report, I have had the unique experience of working in both a Senate personal office and for a Senate Committee during my fellowship year. I began the fellowship in Senator Ron Wyden’s personal office and then transitioned to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) when Senator Wyden became the Chairman during the 113th Congress. Experiencing both work environments has been critical to developing a better understanding of how decisions are made, policies are crafted, and legislation is advanced in the Senate. Through these two lenses, my year on the Hill has been highly educational and has helped me achieve my outlined goals.
After working in DC for the prior year, it became increasingly obvious the role Congress plays in DC and it was apparent that the only way to understand how the Hill works is to actually work there. Therefore, coming into the Congressional Fellowship my primary goal for the year was to peer inside the Congressional black-box and begin to understand how decisions are made. In retrospect, I believe I achieved this goal. I am leaving the Fellowship with a fundamental understanding of how Congress works, and most importantly, I am leaving with a better understanding of the overall system in which Congress operates. Although there is significantly more for me to learn about the inner workings of the Hill, I have gained valuable experiences that I can continue to draw upon that have laid the foundation to enable me to succeed as I move forward in my career in policy.
Instrumental in achieving this goal has been the ability to work on drafting and advancing legislation. As a Fellow, I have worked on a variety of pieces of legislation that span the gamut of bill forms—new drafts, reintroductions of bills from the 112th Congress, and co-sponsorships. Throughout this process I have fostered stakeholder consensus, engaged in bipartisan (and bicameral) negotiations, and solicited co-sponsorships on Senator Wyden-led efforts. Although each bill has only a discreet set of procedural pathways available in order to become a public law, this year illustrated that no two bills provide the same legislative experience. Each piece of legislation engaged a different group of stakeholders, a different coalition of Senators, and adhered to different degrees of timeliness. Not only did working on each bill grow my knowledge of how the Hill functions, but each effort expanded my interpersonal and negotiation skills as well as my subject-matter expertise on unfamiliar areas of the energy sector.
Aside from legislation, over the last year I learned that there are many levers that Congress can pull in order to address the concerns of the American public. Much of my day-to-day interactions on the Hill involved meeting with groups, whether Oregon constituents, think tanks representatives, Federal agencies, or larger trade and professional associations. By talking to people and hearing their concerns, I was able to begin to evaluate if there was a role of the Senator to play in addressing their concern and what that role may be, as well as present options for him to consider in moving forward. This included sending letters to colleagues or the Administration; highlighting issues in floor statements, speeches at stakeholder events, ENR hearings, or in smaller private meetings; convening larger meetings of stakeholder to drive consensus for disparate groups; or planning briefings to educate Senate staff on topics of interest. Through these efforts, I was able to begin to understand the larger role that Congress plays in the overall Federal landscape and that advancing legislation is only one mechanism for addressing the needs of the American people.
Overall, this Fellowship has provided an exceptional opportunity to delve deeper into the inner workings of Congress that would not have otherwise been afforded through any other channel. Broadly, I have grown to understand the frustrations that both Washington (and Hill) insiders and outsiders feel about the state of the Congress and the underlying difference between policy and politics. Moreover, despite the apparent inability to “get much done” by way of enacted legislation, this last year has showed me that there are many, many efforts underway to improve upon the status quo and that it is frequently dependent on waiting for the “right time.”