If you had asked me four months ago, I never would have believed that a class project I began for Professor Lee McKnight’s Information Policy Class (IST 618) would result in a meeting with senior policy officials at the White House. But that’s exactly what happened.

Well, technically the meeting was next door to the White House at the Executive Office of the President.

However,  arriving at the gates outside the imposing Eisenhower building and going through multiple security checkpoints before being let inside certainly made it feel like a White House visit.

I should back up and provide a little background.

Fall semester, I decided to work with another gradudate student, Benedikt Abendroth, on a paper describing the use of mobile ad-hoc networking for emergency management.

I won’t go into detail, but if you’re curious you can read it here.

A Simple Plan

At first, my intention was simply to write a paper that would get me a good grade and be done with it (just as I have with countless other papers I have written.) However, as I waded into the research, I soon realized that I needed help understanding some of the technology.

So I decided to join WiTec (Worldwide Innovation Technology and Entrepreneurship Club), a student-led organization here at the iSchool. My involvement with WiTec resulted in two things:

  • First, I learned about some of the really fascinating work being done by other students here at the iSchool, particularly around IoT and cloud computing.
  • Second, I began to understand the technology I was researching within a larger framework, and in particular, I began to understand the transformative power of Edgeware and the Open Specifications Model approach developed right here at the iSchool.

Paper Accepted

This involvement with WiTec and my work on emergency ad-hoc networking progressed, ultimately culminating in the trip to Washington, DC. That’s because our paper had been accepted into the ITERA conference and we were scheduled to present.

Just days before this trip, I received an email letting me know I would also have the opportunity to accompany Professor McKnight to a meeting at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The Office Visit

After making it through the security checkpoints and entering the building, I’m not ashamed to admit I had more than a few butterflies in my stomach.

If you’re not familiar with the Executive Office of the President, it was created in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt with the mission “to provide the President with the support that he or she needs to govern effectively.” In other words, we were meeting with the people who have been tasked with making the President’s agenda a reality, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy is in charge of setting the nation’s course with respect to major policies, plans and programs. It’s difficult to overstate the power contained in that building.

The Meeting

As we took our seats at the large conference table, I became increasingly relieved that I was in the passenger seat of this meeting, with Prof. McKnight taking the lead.

The goal of the meeting was to look at next step options for developing and promoting the WiGiT architectural framework. For the next hour, I diligently took notes as the three men across the table brainstormed about the most fitting partnership programs and points of contact.

As the meeting came to a close and we shook hands, it occurred to me that I had just participated in the crucial element of governace that determines how America plans to navigate this technological frontier. In some small way, I had participated in the shaping of this country’s innovation agenda. As we exited out onto the Washington, DC streets, I couldn’t help but marvel at how this whole experience had come together.

I guess if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that when you’re involved in the projects we work on here at the iSchool, there’s no telling where our hard work will lead.

Maybe it’s just an assignment for class, or maybe it’s leading the next revolution in internet security or perhaps developing an app that will revolutionize how we interact with the world.

The point is, what we do in our time here is important. If I have any advice to my fellow iSchoolers, it’s to recognize that the hard work you do in your classes and clubs isn’t just about getting a grade–it’s about being a part of shaping the future. And if you pursue your work with dedication and passion, there’s no telling what opportunities await.

Have you got a comment about how your research might be shaping policy or technology? Please leave your thoughts here!