Muiz Wani, a sophomore in Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), initially entered college as a public policy major. But coming from high school with a strong background in math, science, and economics, Wani found himself drawn to industrial engineering, particularly because of the field of data analytics, which is playing a growing role in American politics: “Data analytics has had a huge role in the last few elections – in terms of tracking how voters think and predicting how states will swing,” he said in a recent interview.
Wani’s family comes from the territory of Kashmir – the disputed region between India and Pakistan – and he explained that after the British Partition in 1947, Kashmiris were promised the chance to vote on which country they would join. To this day they have not received that opportunity. “Public service is the idea of participation in government, the idea that we have the right of self-determination, the idea of civic engagement -- that was engrained in me at a very young age,” Wani noted. “Some of my family were involved in Kashmiri politics. Learning about the struggle itself really fostered my interest in civics, government, and public participation.”
Even before arriving at Tech, Wani had looked at public service programs offered by the Institute and felt drawn to the Federal Jackets Fellowship program. Once at Tech, Wani joined business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, where he met ISyE senior Lois Johnson, who had interned as a Federal Jacket at the White House operations office in fall 2016. Johnson encouraged Wani to apply for the program, and she was able to advise him on how prepare for the essay writing and interviews that are part of the selection process.
Ultimately, Wani applied for and was selected for a Federal Jackets Fellowship, the stipend of which allowed him to take an unpaid internship with the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (CSST) during the fall 2017 semester. This committee, Wani explained, has jurisdiction over federal science research programs at agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and even NASA. “That really appealed to me, having an engineering background and getting to work with other engineers and scientists – Ph.D.s and experts in these fields,” Wani said. “I thought it would be the best way to bring Georgia Tech to the Hill, but also to bring the Hill back to Georgia Tech: fostering that symbiotic relationship.”
When the House was in session, Wani spent much of his time in committee hearings – about two each week – on topics that ranged from quantum technology to geo engineering to the cybersecurity of the U.S. electrical grid. He helped write policy memos for CSST committee members, so they could prepare in advance for the expert speakers brought in to give testimony and he wrote opening statements for Congressional members that went into the record of the hearings. Knowing that something he wrote is now part of the permanent Congressional record is Wani’s proudest accomplishment from his internship.
Although Wani worked on the Democratic side of the CSST, there were, he said, “plenty of bipartisan issues or policies.” These included the U.S. and Israel Space Cooperation Act and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act of 2017.
Unsurprisingly, Russian interference in the 2016 election was the hot topic when Wani was at the Capitol. He attended several meetings of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – also known as the Helsinki Commission – where he learned more about what Russia is doing to further its own political goals. The CSST had its own committee meeting about the Russian-backed Kaspersky antivirus software, which had been used by the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Homeland Security (DHS). Kaspersky has been used by the Russian government to hack American data, and ultimately, the software was banned by the DoD and DHS. “That was definitely my most memorable experience,” Wani commented.
When asked what he took away from his internship, Wani paused. “I think a long-term sense of optimism,” he said after a moment. “Now I really understand the importance of compromise – you’re not always going to get what you want, but you can still work together. Understanding that both parties want the world to be a better place gives me optimism.
“And in day-to-day politics, we lose sight of the fact that our institutions are greater than we often acknowledge them to be,” he added. “For example, I was able to tour the Capitol a few times, and there’s a place where there’s a star on the tile, which marks where Abraham Lincoln’s desk stood when he was a member of Congress. Standing where Abraham Lincoln stood – that was really cool. Walking by the Supreme Court everyday on the way to work or going to Arlington National Cemetery or to the monuments blew my mind. It reminded me that whatever you may think of politics, these institutions have been here before us and hopefully will last after us.
“I was in constant awe of where I was.”
For more information on the Federal Jackets internship program, visit http://www.gov.gatech.edu/internships/dc.