Meet the Fellows 2019: Allison Hutchings

To paraphrase many others, “exploration is in humanity’s DNA.” One of our most hopeful pursuits is continuing to understand the world around us, and exploration is one of the tools used to comprehend our world. As this trait has allowed humans to slowly expand across the globe, we have long looked at the sky and dreamed of exploring beyond Earth further into the cosmos. Much of my schooling and career was focused on this ever-optimistic field. During my time in industry I have seen tiny startups grow to large companies, regularly sending supplies to the International Space Station. Bigger and extremely capable rovers are currently driving around the surface of another planet (Mars!). And numerous companies are competing to be the first private firm to send humans into space. All this work is pointed towards an end goal of humanity becoming an interplanetary species; and it’s a very exciting field for any engineer.

But rather than looking to the stars, I often find myself reflecting on the big problems I see here on Earth. With the same optimism required to succeed with space exploration I believe it is possible to address issues like election security or automation’s affect on society. This will require a combination of intelligent application of technology and effective governing. Ultimate success in both pursuits – becoming an interplanetary species and fixing issues here on Earth – requires an inclusive team. It has been shown in the business and engineering worlds that solutions created by diverse teams, representative of the population, are more successful. Similarly, policy makers in Washington would benefit from more contributing voices, particularly in a world where technology touches everything.

As a consultant I moved between industries, and beyond aerospace I worked on numerous projects, including in entertainment, defense, and consumer products. I have varied technical expertise, from structural analysis (e.g. checking that a spacecraft will survive the mechanical vibrations induced by launch) to signal processing (e.g. determining which frequencies a set of musicians are simultaneously playing). But beyond the hard skills of an aerospace engineer trained in design-based decision making I also cherish the context provided by training in the liberal arts. This blend was a benefit to my projects in engineering and will continue to be so in my next role as a 2019 Congressional Innovation Fellow for TechCongress.

Of course, a shift in career to straddle technology and policy is a big jump. The motivations that drive this switch stem all the way from an exceptional set of peers during high school that pushed each other to achieve while also seeing the world from other people’s perspectives, and a college mission statement that demanded we graduate with “a clear understanding of the impact of [our] work on society.” Guided by this mission, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work on some of the most pressing technological issues at the highest levels. I hope to participate in many parts of the legislative process and contribute to policy on issues related to automation, new manufacturing technologies, algorithmic decision making, election security, STEM education, space exploration, and data privacy.