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Bullet policy · Feb 26, 2021

AIBS Recognizes Emerging Public Policy Leaders

Rice University and Rockefeller University Graduate Students Receive 2021 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Awards

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to announce that Shyla Cooks and Karl Palmquist have been selected as the 2021 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) recipients. The EPPLA recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who are demonstrating an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and policy.

Shyla Cooks is a master’s student in bioscience and health policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas. After serving in the United States Navy for four years, she worked as a 7th and 8th grade science teacher for two years under the Teach for America program, which is dedicated to addressing educational inequities in low-income areas. She continues to teach science at the School of Science and Technology—a charter school in Houston, Texas—while enrolled in full-time coursework. Cooks is active in her professional community as a member of the Rice Science Policy Network, the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University, and Leadership for Educational Equity—a Washington, DC–based nonprofit leadership development organization dedicated to ending educational inequity. She also started her own small business, Poppie Seeds Veggie Eats, to not only cater healthy foods but also educate people in her community about the advantages of living a healthy lifestyle. Cooks earned her BS in biology from the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas.

Karl Palmquist is a doctoral student at the Rockefeller University in New York City, New York, studying biology with a focus on cellular biomechanics. As the Anderson Graduate Fellow, Palmquist studies how multicellular systems display emergent behaviors and self-organize during embryonic development—a topic with implications for our understanding of evolution and diseases like cancer. Outside of the laboratory, he is involved in several environmental and grassroots organizations focused on communicating science to the public and influencing policy decisions. Palmquist has actively participated in science education and outreach efforts at the American Museum of Natural History as well as in the Rockefeller University science outreach community, RockEDU. He has garnered science policy experience with the New York City group of the Sierra Club, where he co-chairs the Executive Committee and chairs the Plastic Pollution Committee. Palmquist earned his bachelor of arts degree in biology and chemistry from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

Cooks sees this award as an opportunity to meaningfully engage at the intersection of science and policy. “As an advocate for the incorporation of science in the policymaking process, winning this award is an essential step towards building awareness in my community,” she said. “It is critical for scientific understanding to be at the forefront of many political decisions. Scientific research plays an integral role in the advancement of our society.”

Palmquist applied for the EPPLA to further develop his science policy and communications toolkit. “My experiences with educating non-scientists about the intersections of human health and environmental issues have shown me the impact that clear and effective science communication can have on swaying public opinion,” he said. “Scientists are trained to use critical thinking to analyze facts and consider possible explanations and outcomes. This is not only useful when studying specific research questions, but these skills are also broadly applicable when trying to support and develop public policies. The most important thing that scientists can offer when engaging with policymakers is the constant reminder that evidence should be used to inform decisions.”

The EPPLA program is in its eighteenth year of recognizing graduate student achievement. “AIBS is proud to recognize graduate student leaders from around the nation who have demonstrated tremendous potential in science policy,” said Scott Glisson, AIBS Chief Executive Officer. “Karl and Shyla join an accomplished group of past EPPLA winners who are playing an important role in bridging the communication gap between scientists and policymakers.”

Cooks and Palmquist will participate in an online science communications training program and meet with their members of Congress as part of the 2021 AIBS Virtual Advocacy Event this April. They will also have the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in a future in-person advocacy event, when it becomes feasible. In addition, they will receive a one-year subscription to the scientific journal BioScience.

AIBS is also recognizing two additional outstanding leaders with an Honorable Mention award. Talia Henkle is a PhD candidate in immunology and molecular genetics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. William Makoto Ota is working toward a PhD in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at the University of California, Riverside.

AIBS is the national organization dedicated to promoting informed decision-making that advances the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. The EPPLA program is one way that AIBS builds the capacity of the scientific community to promote sound decision-making.

The EPPLA program is made possible by the generous financial support of AIBS donors. More information about the EPPLA program and AIBS is available at