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July 22, 2004

A WISE Intern

Sam Schoofs (far right) with his Calvin senior design team

A recent Calvin College graduate is nearing the end of a 10-week stay in Washington, D.C. that has seen him get a first-hand education about public policy and the role of engineers.

Sam Schoofs graduated in May 2004 with a degree in engineering and has spent the weeks since in the nation's capital as part of the WISE Program (Washington Internships for Students of Engineering). In the fall he will pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech Lorraine, the Metz, France campus of Georgia Tech University.

Schoofs was one of 12 current engineering students or recent graduates selected to spend June, July and part of August in Washington, learning how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues and how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions. His fellow interns represent such prestigious engineering schools as UC Berkeley, MIT and Virginia Tech.

Schoofs is sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and is working this summer on renewable energy (at Calvin his senior design project was on solar energy).

At WISE he is studying something called renewable portfolio standards - a policy tool that many states have passed that mandates that a certain amount of energy that the state is using must come from renewable energy.

Schoofs says about 15 states have passed this type of law. He is investigating whether the federal government should pass such a law for all states.

"The Senate actually approved a 10 percent mandate for the country a few years ago," he says, "but this was not passed by the House of Representatives."

So far Schoofs' research has led him to believe a federal law could be a good thing for the country.

"It will," he says, "encourage the growth of the renewable energy industry, ease prices on natural gas and pollute less than using fossil fuels."

Still, he says, there is much that is unknown about how a federal system might work. More work should be done investigating how exactly to implement such a policy he says.

Schoofs says that whether or not the federal government ever passes the law he is researching, the WISE program has been a great experience.

"We have been traveling around to various groups in D.C. who employ engineers and scientists and looking at how they are involved in public policy," he says. "We have visited lots of government agencies, everything from the FDA to NASA to the Department of Defense. And we network with a variety of think tanks, plus places like the Brookings Institute and Resources for the future."

Schoofs, a Dubuque, Iowa, native and graduate of Dubuque Senior High School, says that his Calvin education prepared him superbly for the summer experience.

"I've found," he says, "that Calvin's engineering program is preparing students for the real world. All of the other students in the program are from larger state schools and they have had varying experiences with their school's engineering programs. Many of these schools have a strong focus on engineering but include almost no liberal arts. From talking with them, and several engineering leaders in D.C., I'm convinced that including a liberal arts education with engineering is a good thing. It gives students a broader background for the work they will be doing in the future. The Calvin engineering program ties all of this together. The discussions we had in class (at Calvin) about broader issues related to engineering are just the sort of thing that I've been learning about this summer. Engineers can have a broad impact on society and it is important that they have the broad knowledge to match."

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)