The Road Toward a White House Fellowship
August 8, 2012
Mark Griep, a Bowhead Science and Technology contractor at the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate was a nominee for the White House Presidential Fellowship program. Founded in 1964, the White House Fellows program is one of America's most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. White House Fellowships offer exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government, spending a year working as a full-time, paid Fellow to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. Although Griep didn't get the fellowship, he went through a long, arduous process that stretched across months of considerations, and it was quite an honor to even be considered.
"The White House Fellowship selection process was definitely an enlightening experience," said Griep. "I made it to the final/third round of cuts; which consisted of 30 applicants from the initial pool of about 1,500. A lot of self evaluation and delving into how engineers/scientists can really make a difference at the executive level, which in conjunction with over a dozen interviews was a great learning experience."
Griep currently leads the Bio-Nano program team who work to develop break-through technology capabilities for the U.S. Soldier; including integrated alternative energy sources, real-time biothreat detection platforms and the development of 2-D nanomaterials. In addition to his responsibilities at ARL, he also develops BioNanomaterials youth/STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teacher outreach programs and serves as a mentor for high school, college and graduate interns.
Prior to working at ARL, Griep was a Fulbright Fellow and completed tenure in Taiwan -- one of the reasons he was contacted by the U.S. State Department to apply for the White House Fellowship program. The initial White House Fellowship application package required about 30 hours of work to include written essays, reference letters and designing a specific policy memo that would be written to the president.
Griep said the letter to the President really required him to "think outside the box." His memorandum for the President discussed an alternative energy generation at public schools proposed as the 'One Student -- One Panel Initiative,' which aimed to simultaneously address key issues including energy security, job creation, advancement in clean energy implementation, and increasing STEM awareness across the U.S.
Griep proposed that alternative energy generation at a public school could be achieved through a variety of proven technologies including PV, wind turbine, biomass fuel, and/or geothermal energy, with PV being the ideal candidate. He proposed that achieving 25 percent energy independence at public schools across the U.S. would require the manufacture and installation of more than 10 gigawatts of solar panels with a domestic content requirement at roughly one 200 watt solar panel for every K-12 student. He went into the estimated costs and savings the initiative would generate and the short-term impacts.
"On the local level, students, teachers and the entire community would become familiar with alternative technologies as the community would gain energy security," said Griep. "This initiative would also provide an opportunity for focused discussion and education on the subject and promote STEM activities with the next generation."
Griep said implementing the One Student -- One Panel would have substantial and immediate and long-term benefits for the American public.
The final round of interviews was conducted over a four-day 'selection weekend' process in D.C. where the 27 members of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships interviewed each of the final applicants and were the individuals responsible for recommending a group of up to 15 people to the President for selection as White House Fellows. The individuals on the commission represented a broad range of backgrounds, interests and professions ranging from senators and congressman to the founder of eBay.
One of the President's commission members and first person to interview Griep was Tom Brokaw who is a special correspondent for NBC News. During 2008, Brokaw was the interim moderator on Meet the Press and from 1982 to 2004 he served as the former White House correspondent, the chief correspondent for Today and the NBC Nightly News anchor.
"The first thing Tom Brokaw said to me was -- 'so, you're the nano guy,'" said Griep. "He said they don't get too many applicants from the scientific community."
During the interview process, Griep had questions on topics ranging from quantum physics and scientific ethics to East Asia policy and how to fund a multi-billion dollar initiative with major themes evolving how scientists can play a role at the executive level.
Griep said that one primary lesson he's learned through life thus far is that putting himself into unfamiliar and challenging environments results in rapid personal growth and transformation. He said this has held true for his fellowship experiences overseas, initiating outreach programs, becoming a successful engineer, mentoring young scientists and his current position leading an advanced scientific laboratory at ARL.
Although he wasn't selected for a White House Fellowship position, Griep said the entire process required him to really think through what he's done in his life so far and where he wants to go in the future. He said the opportunity to be interviewed by some of the nation's foremost leaders was invaluable.
Dr. Shashi Karna, WMRD, mentor for Griep, couldn't be more proud.
"Mark making it to the finals of the White House Fellowship has meant a great deal for us all -- and, it's one of the proudest moments in my career mentoring young scientists and engineers," said Karna.