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A New Fellowship Program Is Born: ELISS

Back in grad school, you may have been one of the many students who couldn’t find opportunities to contribute to real-world problems and take advantage of the synergies found from working across disciplines. In response to that need, Melanie Roberts, 2006-07 Congressional Fellow in the U.S. Senate and 2007-08 Executive Branch Fellow at NSF, founded and now directs the new AAAS Emerging Leaders In Science & Society (ELISS) fellowship program. 

Watch students speak their passion on this ELISS video.

ELISS is a collaborative leadership program that prepares graduate and professional students to tackle complex societal challenges. Teams of fellows choose a challenge in a theme area: Energy & Environment (e.g., food security in a drought, renewable energy) or Health & Wellbeing (e.g., personalized medicine, reducing health disparities). During a one-year extracurricular program, they will improve leadership skills, join a broad professional network, and identify opportunities for meaningful careers and civic engagement.

(Click the image to watch students speak their passion.)

ELISS fellows volunteer 3–5 hours per week to:

  • Interview stakeholders and experts in their community.
  • Inform the public and local/national leaders about a specific issue through events and a team project (e.g., website, video, museum exhibit).
  • Develop leadership skills including communicating with diverse audiences, collaborating with a distributed team, and entrepreneurship.
  • Explore career opportunities in all sectors with the help of mentors.
  • Build a professional community with the knowledge and skills required to tackle cross-boundary problems.


With input from graduate and professional students, ELISS was founded by a group of early–career PhDs with experience in government, industry, and academia. As host to the program, AAAS advises on strategy and helps fundraise. Our own director, Cynthia Robinson, serves on the oversight committee.

The inaugural class includes 16 fellows at four universities: Purdue, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Washington.