Dr. Sarah Hall, bottom, fourth from left, is part of the 2023-24 class of American Association fo...Dr. Sarah Hall, bottom, fourth from left, is part of the 2023-24 class of American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Policy Fellows. She is spending a year in Washington, DC and at conferences around the US helping to implement the National Landslide Preparedness Act and engaging with other earth scientists. Credit: AAAS STPF

Hall, the COA Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Chair in Earth Systems and GeoSciences, was selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for a year-long Science & Technology Policy Fellowship positioned at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) near Washington, DC. As part of the Landslide Hazards Program Office of the Natural Hazards Mission Area, she is assisting with the implementation of aspects of the National Landslide Preparedness Act, which aims to reduce losses due to landslides.

“This year-long training in policy and stakeholder engagement is a way for me to grow my professional skill set, and then incorporate aspects of it into my teaching and work with COA students,” explained Hall. “It’s also been really awesome to get to experience some of what DC has to offer, such as open hours with my representatives, museum exhibits, food, and music. I also joined a soccer team, and am taking sign language and Spanish classes.”

COA earth science professor Sarah Hall, center, pointing, in Acadia National Park with her Geolog...COA earth science professor Sarah Hall, center, pointing, in Acadia National Park with her Geology of Mount Desert Island course. Hall was selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a year-long Science & Technology Policy Fellowship positioned at the United States Geological Survey.To engage with collaborators, Hall is attending conferences and visiting USGS science centers. This includes taking part in the annual AAAS conference in Denver, CO and working with USGS colleagues at the Geological Hazards Science Center in Golden, CO. She is also attending the Geological Society of America (GSA) Southeast Section meeting in North Carolina to present ongoing work of the Landslide Hazard Program Office and attend a field trip to landslide sites within the Appalachian Mountains. At the North Central-South Central GSA Section meeting in Missouri, she will engage with collaborators about hazards programming, visit a sinkhole-prone landscape, and present some of her Maine-based research with COA, Acadia National Park, and MDI Biological Laboratory co-authors.

A component of the fellowship time is dedicated to professional development, which encompasses attending courses and workshops and participating in other professional activities such as the Geological Society of Washington (GSW). In January, Hall gave a talk at the GSW entitled “(Un)Well Stories: Private well water quality in coastal Maine,” which featured the work of many current and past COA students.

“I’m excited to be in a space where I can be refreshing some of my expertise, meeting new colleagues, and learning new skills,” Hall said. “I think it’s really good for students to see that learning is a lifelong process, and that it doesn’t end with college or even your terminal degree; you have to keep exposing yourself to new experiences.”

Following her fellowship, Hall plans to return to COA, where she will apply her recent experiences and new knowledge to pressing issues close to home.

Professor Sarah Hall, center, in blue, explaining the finer points of environmental monitoring wi...Professor Sarah Hall, center, in blue, explaining the finer points of environmental monitoring with students on the COA campus. Hall is helping to implement the National Landslide Preparedness Act as a part of her fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“I became interested in applying for this fellowship to learn more about how science informs policy. I have been working on water quality projects in Maine for the last six years with COA students. Half of Maine residents rely on unregulated private well
water… It is crushing how many people are exposed to contaminants such as 
uranium, arsenic, and lead through their drinking water. It seems to me that clean drinking water is pretty low hanging fruit issue in Maine. We have the filters and technology; we need programs and policies that don’t let people fall through the cracks,” Hall said.

Science and Technology Policy Fellows (STPF) are chosen from a select group of doctoral-level scientists and highly experienced masters-level engineers to engage in an immersive educational opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the public policy arena while leveraging their expertise to help confront major societal issues, according to the AAAS.

“The 51st class of STPF fellows are quite the gathering of minds: these are expert-level scientists and engineers who have chosen to devote a year or more to help ensure that the nation’s policies are informed by science,” said Rashada Alexander, PhD, STPF director and alumna fellow.

The 2023-24 fellowship class is sponsored by organizations including AAAS, the Moore Foundation, and partner societies. Of the 276 fellows chosen, 38 are serving in Congress, one at the Federal Judicial Center, and 237 in the executive branch among 19 federal agencies or departments. Hall is an executive branch fellow placed in the USGS, a bureau within the Department of the Interior.

At the end of her service, Hall will join a select corps of 4,000+ STPF alumni who are equipped to solve problems with a unique set of science policy skills and acumen. Also this year, STPF is launching an alumni network to stimulate and support collaboration among them to further the STPF mission of supporting evidence-based decision making in US public policy.