A Day of Advocacy

When it comes to advocacy days in the Capitol, the first line is the bottom line. Members of Congress and their staff like facts, they like research, and they love it when smart, even-handed academics convey the benefits of their work. Last week, the Dean of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering Dr. Ravi Bellamkonda journeyed up to Washington, D.C. to open dialogue in times of uncertainty and to fulfill precisely that role of communicator.

With colleagues from other North Carolina universities, the Dean shuffled between congressional offices illuminating the concerns of the engineering education community. From the need for stable research funding and higher budget caps, to the importance of research in infrastructure planning and the value of a robust research enterprise for local economies, there was an abundance of topics to cover.

In some ways, the most difficult part of the Dean’s job was picking and choosing which elements of the Duke research enterprise to share with lawmakers. Apart from the inherent value of new technologies emerging from Duke labs, the Dean, per his position as both an administrator and an academic, also conveyed the larger difficulties of running a large-scale research institution in tumultuous times. How can our scientists conduct long-term research on medical device implementation when budget projections are so unknown?

As an ambassador for the Duke community, the Dean’s areas of concern were not limited to science and technology. He also shared a timely message on the impacts the recent immigration Executive Order had on the Duke family. Adding in personal vignettes and putting a face on the effects of policy decisions helps color an otherwise political decision for lawmakers. The value of an advocacy day is perhaps best illuminated when advocates of one field are able to reach across disciplines to bring in the importance of another.

But the Dean was not simply a conduit for policy proposals; he is proof of their success.  A graduate of Osmania University (India), Ravi Bellamkonda then attended Brown University on an immigrant visa to pursue his PhD and eventually did his post-doctoral training at MIT.  Bellamkonda is no stranger to international education and the value of borders open to research collaboration.

By partnering with government programs and reiterating the benefits of that work to our elected leaders, we can better enforce a cycle of educated policymaking. There is an intersection between what Duke is good at doing and what is worth doing, and we must continually ask what can our research programs produce that is meaningful in the world. This is the strength of Duke. This gives us a differential advantage. But it is also the strength of Dean Bellamkonda.

So our advice for when you come to the Capitol to share research is to come with facts. Come prepared to engage and debate. But also come with perspective. Dean Bellamkonda’s strengths were not limited to his engineering acumen. For the Dean’s visit to the Capitol, the values of diversity, research, and a free and open academic environment are simply facts of life.