April 5, 2016

Where are they now? Find out how the Knauss Fellowship helped shape the career of '88 alum Michael Nelson

Michael R. Nelson works on Internet-related global public policy issues for CloudFlare, a startup that has improved the performance and security of more than 4 million Web sites worldwide. Prior to joining CloudFlare early in 2015, he was a Principal Technology Policy Strategist in Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group and before that was a Senior Technology and Telecommunications Analyst at Bloomberg Government. In addition, since January, 2009, Dr. Nelson has been teaching courses and doing research on the future of the Internet and cyber-policy at Georgetown University.

Prior to joining the Georgetown faculty, Nelson worked for almost ten years at IBM. He started his career in Washington, DC, working for Senator Gore, then chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space. After five years on Capitol Hill, he moved to the White House and worked with Vice President Gore and the President's science adviser on issues relating to telecommunications policy, cybersecurity, encryption, electronic commerce, and information policy. Dr. Nelson has a B.S. from Caltech and a Ph.D. from MIT.

Micheal was a Legislative Sea Grant Knauss fellow in 1988.

What was your fellowship placement?
I served as Senator Al Gore's science and IT advisor, when he served as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space. In that role, I organized dozens of hearings, wrote speeches, and drafted legislation, including what became the High-Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1992 (the "Gore bill")

How did the Knauss Fellowship help you in your career?
My fellowship turned into a permanent position with the Senate Science Subcommittee and, five years later, a job working with Vice President Gore on digital issues in the Clinton White House. Due to good luck and good timing, I was able to help Congress and the Clinton Administration make key decisions that enabled the explosive growth of the commercial Internet during its early years. Being scientifically trained gave me a unique perspective on policy debates and made me an effective "translator" for scientists and engineers when they met with policy makers on the Hill or in the Administration.

What is one of your favorite memories from your fellowship?
One of the very first hearings I organized for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation was on global climate change (or "greenhouse warming" as it was called then). It was held on a beastly hot summer day. Several of the top scientists in the field (including a NOAA researcher) shared dire forecasts of the consequences of a much hotter world (which are now coming true--ten to twenty years early). It was a fascinating case study in the challenge of helping policy makers who are not scientists understand complex computer models, research results, and error bars.