Note: the deadline for voting has passed. The program will debut next year at five campuses: University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Stanford, and Purdue. Check out the program website for more information.

As graduate students we spend years crafting projects in the hope that we might move our micro-specialized field one step – even a tiny step – forward. During these years of an all-consuming focus on questions that only two dozen other people in the world even understand, we might fantasize about using our creativity and science literacy to connect with the public and develop solutions to the real challenges we face in our communities (and achieving it all outside the condemnatory scope of the dreaded reviewer # 3).

So a few smart scientists (former FOSEP-ers and current AAAS-ers) came up with an idea: bring talented and committed graduate students from all fields together in a cross disciplinary team, and give that team a mandate to create solutions for real world challenges. The team will be united by a specific issue of their choosing – whether it be controlling invasive species, addressing water rights, encouraging urban revitalization, or reducing health disparities – and will have the resources to engage the public, civic leaders, non-profits, and industry in innovative solutions. Notable about this program is that while thinking scientifically about these issues will be important, teams will be composed of graduate and professional students across all disciplines (we all share the same proclivity towards free food, but bring diverse expertise and experience to an interdisciplinary challenge).

The program is called Emerging Leaders in Science and Society (ELISS), but here’s the catch: it doesn’t exist quite yet. ELISS is preparing to launch next year on five partner campus which will be chosen largely based on student demand.

Here’s where your voice counts: sign your name to the ELISS student signature drive by November 23rd to bring the program to your campus. Now, I’m a little biased, so I would especially like to encourage UW students to sign, but in the interest of civic participation, I’ll say that everyone should make their voice heard. (If UW students need a little extra motivation, know that the co-founders of the ELISS program are UW grads).

Check out the ELISS website for a more thorough description of the program.