The WISE Program

Bjong Wolf Yeigh

Setting the Standard

Washington Internships for Students of Engineering is a nine-week experiential public policy program designed for engineering students between their junior and senior years in college. Each year, up to 15 students are chosen in a nationwide competition. Since its inception in 1980, 435 engineering students from 147 colleges and universities around the United States have participated in the program. Students experience firsthand how engineers can contribute to public policy processes. Every intern is required to write an extensive policy paper on a technology policy issue, working closely with the sponsoring engineering society.

Over the past 32 years, a number of engineering and science organizations have participated as mentors and sponsors of the WISE program, including these groups:

  • American Association of Engineering Societies,
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers,
  • American Nuclear Society,
  • American Society of Civil Engineers,
  • American Society of Electrical Engineers,
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers,
  • ASAE,
  • ASTM International,
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers,
  • National Society of Black Engineers,
  • National Society of Professional Engineers,
  • Operations Research Society of America,
  • SAE International, and
  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

The entire summer experience grooms future leaders in engineering and technology. The policy research experience sets the WISE program apart from other Washington programs, and it is all about learning and applying standards, and the use of standards. Papers from past programs range from energy policy to patent reform policy and hundreds of technology topics in between. Students learn the intricacies of the real-world use of standards, dissecting the data that lead to policy formulation. Policy papers have considered standards from ASTM International, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), quality management systems, ASME, U.S. military standards, and other widely known - as well as lesser-known - standards from around the world. Students learn the quantitative side of standards as well as the "softer" side of politics and standards education.

While the students are in Washington, D.C., they have access to policy makers and primary sources of information such as Congressional committees and agencies of the executive branch. They are well-received because they are there to learn rather than to lobby.

Because WISE interns work on present-day technology policy issues, their research is very current and relevant. Rather than looking at historical or textbook materials, these students examine standards issues as they unfold or research those in engineering practice. Standards are not idealized to fit academic problem solving. Everything they consider is real, current and in its entirety.

The impact the WISE program has on its interns and in public policy debate is significant. The value of policy papers written by WISE interns ranges from an excellent starting point for a senior thesis to a significant policy document that congressional staff members can use to influence policy debates and laws in Congress.

Since its inaugural class 32 years ago, the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering program has provided engineering students with a platform to learn about the public policymaking process while contributing to important public policy debates of our time. The students, advisers and the program itself have had a profound impact on this technological, knowledge-based society, and its contributions continue. In May, the WISE family welcomed 13 new interns for the 2012 summer program.

Bjong Wolf Yeigh, Ph.D., F.ASME, is president of the State University of New York Institute of Technology and a tenured professor at the State University of New York. He was the WISE faculty member in residence in 1997, 1998 and 2006 and assisted his wife, Professor Sandy Yeigh, who served as the WISE FMR in 2011.

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