Engineering Public Policy

Alumnus translates his
engineering education and
experiences into a position
at one of the nation’s
top policy organizations

By Greg Norman '10

“One afternoon I was doing an experiment in the lab, and I suddenly had this realization,” says Guruprasad Madhavan, MBA ’07, PhD ’09. “I was stimulating these tiny mechanoreceptors on the foot to improve lower-leg circulation for blood flow and I thought, ‘Instead of stimulating these tiny receptors, maybe I should stimulate the economy instead.’”

So, in fall 2008, Madhavan applied for and received a fellowship with the National Academy of Sciences, where he obtained an understanding of economic policy by working in a group with Lawrence Summers, now the director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council.

Madhavan returned to Binghamton in spring 2009 to complete his biomedical engineering degree, and then applied for his current position as program officer in policy and global affairs at the National Academies in Washington, D.C. “I felt that as an engineer, I could use my solid scientific thinking to make strong policies,” he says.

The National Academies — comprising the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council — are advisors to the nation on science, engineering and medicine.

Madhavan’s work includes researching improvements and identifying issues of national interest in the related fields of the academies that are then examined by experts before being presented as advice to the nation.

“All these areas I need to constantly study and be aware of and monitor,” he says. “I help in convening world leaders, organizing discussion forums and formal consensus studies with them to provide recommendations to the government and the public on critical issues.”

“As an engineer you’re taught to think holistically, broad and big,” Madhavan notes. “[The Watson School] exposed me to a range of perspectives and taught me how to look at different angles on an issue.”

A Hard Line

Alumna Tonya O. Parris ’92 tells why she’s so passionate about STEM education

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

For Tonya O. Parris ’92, these words by Winston Churchill embody her dedication to fostering educational opportunities.

“Although I was accepted into MIT on a partial scholarship, they didn’t offer what Binghamton’s EOP program did — financial support, free tutoring and an immediate network of intelligent individuals who share similar socio-economic experiences,” says Parris, who studied computer science at the Watson School.
At Binghamton, she found that some women of color in a male-dominated discipline were intimidated. “But that challenge made me more passionate and fueled my drive,” she says. “I thought if I could show other people who come from a similar background as mine that I could do it, they would be encouraged to try as well.” And every day she rises to the challenge.

She recalls the memorable experience of “receiving my acceptance letter to attend graduate school. It relayed a strong message that I could compete with students from Ivy League and other prestigious institutions. It made me proud to be among the select few who would represent SUNY at the University of Pennsylvania,” she says. “Although there was a 75 percent savings for my overall undergraduate education in terms of dollars, the value of my education was right on par.”

Parris began her career as a software engineer at Morgan Stanley. She later served 10 years as vice president for Goldman Sachs, and today is a vice president at Credit Suisse in New York.

Motivated by the support she received to attend the Watson School, she began the Parris Student Support Scholarship in 2004. “EOP with PELL and TAP provided me with practically a full ride to one of the best universities in the country. If that funding was not available to me, it is not likely that I would have attended any university. So providing funding to students who are feeling the effects of funding cuts felt like an obligation,” Parris says.

In 2009, she founded The Parris Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting educational opportunities and awareness in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through scholarships and outreach programs. “Our underrepresented communities are hindered by the digital divide, and technology jobs are being outsourced because it’s considered cheaper. We’re not producing enough technologists and engineers to serve the demand,” she explains.

“Youth can be intimidated by math and science. Not because they are incapable and incompetent, but because a failing K-12 school system provides partial curriculums with no books and teachers who are not genuinely passionate about education. As a result, failing students are promoted to avoid further classroom over-crowding,” Parris says. “It’s time to instill confidence that young people can break the cycle of poverty, and a STEM career can help them achieve that.”

Parris — who makes time to act as an advisor to the Watson School and serve as secretary of the Alumni Association board — also encouraged her four younger siblings to attend Binghamton. “Binghamton University is among the premier educational institutions in the U.S. in terms of cost, curriculum, faculty, student life, campus environment and size,” she notes. “It’s no longer the best-kept secret in the Northeast. ‘Best of the breed’ successful graduates are converting that secret into an international broadcast, and it’s a beautiful thing!” lDavid Czarnecki


Welcome to the Watson School!

“Sixteen years ago, I was in your shoes as a senior in high school trying to decide where I wanted to go to college. I hope that in sharing a little bit of my personal connection to Binghamton University, you can make a more informed decision and join me as a future alum.”

—David Czarnecki ’97, applications lead, Agora Games, Troy, N.Y.

Who better to provide words of wisdom and guidance to prospective students than someone who’s been there before? Beginning this spring, admitted students will receive welcome letters from Watson School engineering and computer science alumni David Czarnecki, Jamie Marie Garcia ’03 or Melissa Pecullan ’92. The letters — composed and mailed in collaboration with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions —
are personalized with the graduate’s story, contact information and signature. The purpose of the campaign is to inspire applicants to follow in the footsteps of other successful alumni and accept our offer to attend Binghamton University.

If you’re interested in sharing your advice and memories or staying involved in other ways, visit the Admissions website at admissions.binghamton.edu/alumni. l

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