Become a COVES Fellow

Have you thought you could make a difference by applying the knowledge you’ve gained as a scientist or engineer to the pressing challenges facing society? The Commonwealth of Virginia Engineering and Science (COVES) Fellowship program will give you firsthand exposure to how policy is made at the state level, helping you determine if this is a good choice for you.

Application Details

There are standard components of the application (resume/CV and personal statement) in addition to the fellowship-specific portions (science policy in VA one-pager and diversity statement). The science policy piece should consist of content similar to a one-page policy memo addressing a science-based topic, though it can take any format (memo, essay, etc.).   This document should detail a science policy issue in Virginia that is written for a non-technical audience. The National Science Policy Network and American Sociological Association have good examples of one-page policy memos. The diversity statement should detail how your identity influences your interests in science policy.

If comfortable doing so, you may also list your status as part of the application to be considered for externally-funded positions. Externally-funded fellows will be from HBCUs and/or historically-excluded communities. Available positions depend on participating sponsors.

Applications links and due dates can be found on the main COVES Fellowship website. If you have further questions about the application process, please contact us directly via email (covesfellowship@vasem.org).

Information Sessions

Each year, the COVES working group hosts at least two information sessions for the fellowship. These sessions are for interested applicants to learn about the program and to engage in Q&A with former COVES Fellows. If you missed an information session, you can view a recording here.

COVES Fellowship Experience

  • As a COVES Fellow, you will:
    • Work together with public policy leaders as you use your expertise to develop solutions to pressing challenges facing Virginia.
    • Receive training, professional development, and mentorship from some of Virginia’s top scientists, engineers, and policy professionals.
    • Receive a summer stipend of $8,500 and access to professional development funds.
  • Past Fellows’ experiences
    • Adele Balmer, Host Office: Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
      “The COVES Fellowship enabled me to gather insight into the inner workings of policymaking in Virginia.  I was able to learn first-hand about the importance of Senate committees and how committee staff members work to inform policymakers on important topics. By working with the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, I was able to make a real-world impact by bringing my expertise to both the health and education subcommittees. My primary project was to conduct a study to provide accurate information to Virginia policymakers about factors that influence Medicaid expenditure to identify areas for potential cost savings by addressing policies that affect health. I was able to transfer my statistical knowledge from working with biological data to build a model that determined how 29 different health factors (e.g., obesity rates, unemployment, and graduation rates) affect Medicaid spending. The results from this study can be used by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee to help make informed decisions on which health factors to focus on to yield the greatest cost-effective improvements. I found it fulfilling to use my statistical expertise on areas outside of my training to make an impact on society and I plan to continue working in science policy upon graduation.” Adele’s work has also been featured in the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Movement for Science program and Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally postcard series.
    • Janey Dike, Host Office: Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Division of the Chief Clinical Officer
      “This summer, I was paired with Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), Division of the Chief Clinical Officer. During my time, I was immersed in learning about the new implementation of Project BRAVO (Behavioral Health Redesign for Access, Value, and Outcomes)​​, which strives to enhance quality behavioral health services across the state that are evidence-based, feasible, and trauma-informed. As a psychological trauma researcher and graduate student clinician, it was so exciting to be involved in discussions about the nuances, barriers, struggles, and successes of implementing large-scale interventions to those most in need of services in a way that is supported by research. I was able to learn about how different entities work together to implement common goals for the state, and I aided in outlining and organizing training needs across departments. In line with Project BRAVO goals, I spent time compiling information related to racial equity and mental health, such as prevalence rates and best practices and running demographic analyses on psychiatric hospitalization data. With this information, I also created a presentation for a Racial Equity Workgroup to highlight barriers to mental health care and disproportionate racial-ethnic group representation in diagnosis and treatment. Regarding the behavioral health workforce shortage issues in Virginia, I identified the various ratings comprising Virginia’s mental health ranking among national reports, compiled information about disparities in workforce racial-ethnic representation, and compared requirements for various licensure titles. Overall, I was able to better understand the inner workings of mental and behavioral health policy in the context of a state government office, and found the conversations with my new network to be invaluable.”  Janey’s work was also featured in the Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally postcard series.
    • Isis Garcia-Rodriguez, Host Office: Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office of Recovery Services
      “As a COVES Fellow, I was given the opportunity to not only engage in work that was related to my field of counseling psychology but also to apply the knowledge I have learned so far in my academic career. I was also given the space to branch out beyond the academic world, into the policy sphere and learn how to engage in new and exciting ways. While working with the Office of Recovery Services, I participated in monthly stakeholder meetings where we established working groups for upcoming policy initiatives, community-based outreach, and provider well-being. I also engaged in providing an outline and framework for a state-wide, regional needs assessment to get a better understanding of what was needed regarding recovery services. By gaining this information, we were able to develop thorough, regional-informed job descriptions for the new hires this Fall. I also participated in conversations about recovery providers’ health and well-being. We began an initiative to provide support groups for the recovery providers, as the pandemic has only highlighted the rates of burnout for this community. Although this wasn’t an original goal, I felt it was important to also start the framework for a provider-level need’s assessment. Although my time as a Fellow is over, I have continued my work with the Office of Recovery Services. We will continue our efforts to begin provider support groups to be able to uplift this population of service providers by highlighting their resiliency. Beyond my work with the ORS, I was able to gain invaluable relationships and mentors through the fellowship experience. I have continued to have conversations with these mentors, and I hope to continue to grow my network.”
    • Chelsea Gray, Host Office: Office of Virginia Delegate Rodney Willett
      “During my 2021 COVES fellowship, I was honored to work in Delegate Rodney Willett’s office. Throughout the course of the fellowship, I gained experience in multiple stages of policy development, from initial ideas to draft legislation. My research was led by a combination of my expertise, the office’s needs and values, constituent concerns, and shifting concerns within the Commonwealth.
      I researched both science and policy on topics of environmental protections, campus sexual assault, public comment periods, and mental health policy. I participated in policy meetings with state agencies and advocacy groups to develop relationships, further research and worked with the legislative aide and members to develop policy recommendations and draft legislation. I produced informational materials that communicate science research and policy for legislative members and the general public and also assisted with responding to constituent emails.
      Due to the nature of policy development in Virginia, much of my work will not see fruition for months or even years. Therefore, after the fellowship, I provided the office with a multi-chapter document that can be referred to in the future, providing detailed information about past and current state policy and the current state of research.
      This process gave me a deeper understanding of how science is used in policy and at the intersection of state and local laws. The fellowship has also allowed me to create long-term relationships with individuals in the state government, and we have made plans to continue our work on legislation in the upcoming legislative session.” Chelsea’s work has also been featured in the Engineering and Scientists Acting Locally postcard series.
    • Tara Illgner, Host Office: Joint Commission on Technology and Science
      “As a COVES Fellow working with the Virginia Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) this summer (2021) has been a great experience, especially in working with my mentor, David Barry, and Hassan Abdelhalim. The three main projects that JCOTS focused on this summer were the new (1) Virginia Consumer Data Privacy Act (VCDPA), (2) Child Protection Online Bill, and (3) VASEM Coastal Flooding Report. Each of these projects presents unique challenges and opportunities. I enjoyed learning about them and supporting JCOTS in these projects wherever possible.
      An exciting new development in the last month of the Fellowship was being able to broach the topic of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies for Virginia. In probing Virginia’s history with CCS tech, we were surprised by little-to-no developments or discussion in this area. I was aware of an exciting new zero-emission power-generation CCS technology, Allam-Fetvedt Cycle, in operation at the NET Power plant in North Carolina. I decided to invite NET Power to speak with myself, Dave, and Hassan. Given the success of that meeting, and with the support of Dave and Hassan, there have since been further meetings scheduled to discuss this technology with key members of JCOTS. NET Power and I presented the merits and potential of this technology for Virginia to the full JCOTS meeting in September 2021.
      The experience of this fellowship has been interesting, exciting, and educational. I have also made great connections and gained new insights into the legal and policy structures behind science and tech in Virginia.  Lastly, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to introduce CCS tech to VA legislators, and am very grateful to COVES, JCOTS, Dave, and Hassan, for making it all possible.” Tara also published her work in SciTech ForeFront in addition to being featured in the National Science Policy Network’s blog.
    • Nikita Lad, Host Office: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
      “The VASEM Commonwealth of Virginia Engineering and Science (COVES) fellowship was an amazing experience as it gave an insight into state-level policymaking as well as allowed me to make some meaningful connections and interact directly with policymakers and stakeholders. The project that I worked on at my host institution ̶the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) ̶ started by looking at a few background resources regarding existing laws, policies, and practices in Virginia, followed by conducting interviews with state/government personnel both from the executive and legislative branch, universities’ chief research officers, private sector CEOs, and association leaders. These interactions with the host office and stakeholders not only gave me an insight into the formulation of legislation but also taught the scientist in me the importance of viewing issues from the policymakers’ lens. Furthermore, putting together a report of recommendations for a non-technical audience was another learning experience. This project on exploring the need for basic research support at Virginia’s Higher Education Institutions gave me a true sense of “policy for science” and taught me ways to bring all the information together and place it objectively. Overall, the COVES experience was remarkable because you get to learn from each other as a cohort as well as the guest speakers’ and mentors’ experiences, which inspires you to do more in this space. The 12-week fellowship is planned similarly to federal-level fellowships and is an exciting opportunity for those who want to explore this incredible field of science policy.” Nikita’s work was featured in the National Science Policy Network’s blog and the report she published while working with SCHEV was shared with policymakers across Virginia.
    • Sunil Manandhar, Host Office: Center for Innovative Technology
      “As a graduate student researching on security and privacy of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices for the past five years, it was a privilege to work with the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) that is working on accelerating innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship in the cybersecurity domain. During my fellowship, I received a wonderful opportunity to understand how companies and government officials view and address security and privacy concerns associated with the use of IoT devices. My research was focused on understanding the viewpoints of partner companies, state/county officials, and the public to develop a model of statewide privacy policies around the introduction of advanced technologies such as Machine Learning in public spaces.
      In my first week of the fellowship, I got a chance to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Smart Community Testbed at Stafford County. This was particularly exciting for me because I got to interact with representatives from more than 15 vendors and learn about the technology and services offered by them. This interaction also helped me with my initial assessment in understanding concerns related to privacy, safety, and security from the viewpoint of companies and users. Furthermore, the event also helped me understand the strength of public-private partnerships as I participated in discussions between officials from different government entities and company representatives.
      During my fellowship, I researched existing literature on smart city implementations, as well as privacy legislation (e.g., General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (VCDPA)) to further explore challenges and understand policies related to privacy in smart cities. Furthermore, I also received opportunities to separately discuss technologies with partner companies as well as compare notes with representatives working on a similar smart community project in Arlington County. All of these interactions extensively helped me scope out the project to identify core research challenges and tasks that would require additional emphasis and effort. After spending some more time on the literature review, it was clear that a comprehensive study is necessary to answer important questions that address various privacy and data protection concerns in the smart city context. At the end of the fellowship, I provided the office with all the progress documents and a summary document that described completed tasks as well as plans for remaining work.
      In summary, the fellowship was a great learning experience. My interactions with mentors from CIT and COVES were really insightful and fun. The experience has helped me better understand how technologies are used and implemented in real-world and inspired me to think about research problems from a practical standpoint.”
    • Margaret Nagai-Singer, Host Office: Virginia Department of Forestry
      “During my time with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), I generated a report that investigates the impact of forests on water quality and quantity. As climate change, urbanization, and development pose a major threat to forests and water security, this work will aid in protecting Virginia against these threats by providing forest owners with mechanisms to keep their forests as forests. Additionally, this report will provide a foundation for a new division within VDOF. In the report, we provided evidence that responsibly-managed forests are paramount to protecting Virginia’s water from the current and imminent challenges it faces. We recognized forests as a type of green infrastructure that can provide our communities, especially Black communities, with clean water. We gathered data that will inform foresters on what forest management opportunities are available and specifically identified land owned by public water systems as a great opportunity for collaboration. We also demonstrated that trees in Virginia provide impressive financial benefits by reducing runoff, among other ecological benefits. We then provided multiple frameworks to improve how forests are used and recognized for their water benefits, including 1) Policy changes in the Code of Virginia; 2) Programs that VDOF can initiate; 3) Ecosystem Services Financing with a Triple Bottom Line approach; 4) Innovative Markets; and 5) Public Outreach Campaigns. We also provided several examples of other states who have successfully implemented similar ideas and that can serve as a foundation for Virginia’s exciting and upcoming work.
    • Homa Jalaeian Taghadomi, Host Office: Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources
      “For the COVES Policy Fellowship, I was placed with the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources as my host institution. My project consisted of helping with the Commonwealth of Virginia Coastal Master Plan and Resilience Initiative. My project focused on comparing the Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF) Grant Manual with the Coastal Resilience Master Plan (CRMP) Prioritization Approach. I also used Dewberry’s DRAFT Work plan, which establishes a prioritization approach based on the CRMP Framework Document. Using both documents, I analyzed how projects are organized or grouped and could determine what factors are used to screen and evaluate projects. Another part of my project was to assess flood exposure of state-owned buildings, which was done using GIS and the EO24 State-Owned Buildings spreadsheet. This opportunity helped me to better understand resiliency in Virginia, and more broadly afforded me new connections and opportunities. Each week, I met with the CRMP team and my mentor, Admiral Ann C. Phillips, who serves as the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection. Additionally, the COVES program hosted various speakers each week. Overall, the COVES Policy Fellowship program was a great learning experience.”
    • Kelsea Yarbrough, Host Office: Office of Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan
      “As a COVES Fellow, I was placed with Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan’s office as my host institution. During my time assisting Senator McClellan’s office, I was fortunate enough to work on various projects. Amongst my projects, the biggest contribution I had was helping constituents with their unemployment benefits cases with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). The VEC had an astounding number of backlogs and active unemployment benefits cases at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our constituents reached out to Senator McClellan’s office for assistance in clearing their cases and helping them obtain their unemployment benefits. Since the VEC cases were an integral part of my projects, I also was able to interact with the constituents and assist them with resources to help their individual situations. This also led to an opportunity to facilitate relationships between state agencies to solve constituent problems. I also had the opportunity to assist and facilitate basic policy research for future legislation. This fellowship continued to strengthen my communication skills while I interacted with lobbyists, other legislative offices, constituents, and state agencies.” Kelsea’s work was also featured in the National Science Policy Network’s blog.

COVES Fellowship Forum

At the end of the Fellowship, a convocation event is held to showcase the hard work and successes of the Fellows. This event is attended by university partners, host offices, and experts across Virginia. Click here to see the 2021 Forum.