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UH Engineering Student Gains Front-Row Seat for Energy Policy and Politics
April 13, 2015
By
Jeannie Kever

An internship at a chemical company assured Jami Summey-Rice that chemical engineering is a good fit for her technical skills. Now she has a chance to test her policy chops.

Summey-Rice will spend the summer in Washington, D.C., one of 14 students nationally selected for WISE (Washington Internships for Students of Engineering).

The program began in 1980 to prepare future engineers for leadership roles in guiding science, technology and public policy. The interns will spend nine weeks meeting with government officials and technical advisors to better understand how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions.

Summey-Rice, a junior, is majoring in chemical engineering, with minors in petroleum engineering and Energy & Sustainability. The Energy & Sustainability minor is an interdisciplinary program based in the UH Honors College but open to all students.

Those classes have cemented her interest in policy issues.

“I’m fascinated by energy policy. I’m fascinated by sustainability,” she said. “I realized I do have aspirations outside engineering.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the program held special appeal, tapping her concern that conventional education programs often “force people to be right-brained or left-brained.

“That doesn’t set us up for solving the big problems,” Summey-Rice said. “We need both.”

WISE is guided by faculty member-in-residence Kenneth J. Lutz, a former Congressional fellow for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who now teaches a course he developed on the smart grid at the University of Delaware.

In addition to meetings and field trips, WISE interns are required to write a paper on a topical engineering-related policy issue. Summey-Rice will focus on the economic and environmental implications of high-speed rail vs. air travel.

That’s topical, as organizers try to build support for high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas.

“We hate the airlines but we don’t have another option,” she said, explaining the allure of high-speed rail for many people.

Summey-Rice is currently vice president and a candidate for president of the UH chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which will sponsor her internship. The interns, each sponsored by a cooperating engineering society, receive housing at George Washington University, paid by the sponsoring society, and a $2,100 stipend.

She is also a member of the Society of Women Engineers, the UH Energy Association and Omega Chi Epsilon, the honor society for chemical engineering students, as well as an initiate of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society.

Summey-Rice will graduate in Spring 2017 and hopes to work in the energy industry. Ultimately, she hopes to move into policy work after building a strong background in the industry.

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