Graduate Catalog
Policies, Procedures, Academic Programs
Science, Technology, and Engineering in Policy
263A Steger Hall (MC 0477)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
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Science, Technology & Engineering in Policy (STEP)

The STEP graduate certificate enhances the capacities of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health care (STEM-H) graduate students to be effective participants and collaborators in policy processes. The program develops participants’ abilities to engage with complex public problems, recognizing that they are social and technical in nature.

Program goal: Develop and enhance STEM-H graduate students’ understanding of policy processes and capacity to integrate scientific and engineering knowledge with public policy reasoning.

Program learning objectives:
  • Analyze how policy processes unfold using concepts and constructs that explicitly consider governance institutions and decision dynamics.
  • Apply a suite of quantitative and qualitative tools to identify and address the multiple dimensions of complex policy development and implementation challenges.
  • Analyze governance practices taking public values, ethical considerations, and the heterogeneous perspectives and needs of different stakeholders into account.
  • Collaboratively engage a broad range of professional and public stakeholders to improve policy decisions.
  • Effectively translate and communicate scientific and technical information to non-technical audiences.
  • Map relationships between scientific and technical information and public policy.
  • Compare and contrast policy standards and norms with scientific and technical norms and practices.
For more information, please visit or contact Program Director Todd Schenk at 
How to Apply:
Fill out the online application for participation in the certificate program.
Upon processing of the application, you will be contacted
with information about the submission of additional
required materials. Thank you for your interest.

STEP Graduate Certificate - Admission Requirements & Process

If you are a current Virginia Tech graduate student, you may apply for the program by completing the Graduate Certificate Application and sending it to the Program Director (Todd Schenk at Applications will be reviewed by the Program Director and Graduate School. 

The certificate program is also open to those not currently enrolled in a graduate degree program at Virginia Tech. In order to apply, please complete the Graduate Certificate Application. You must also submit a general Graduate School Application, pay the fee, and submit official undergraduate transcripts demonstrating bachelor’s degree conferral. In order to be eligible for this graduate certificate program, you must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or better. If you did not earn your degree in the United States must submit Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) results showing a minimum score of 90 on the internet-based test (iBT) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with a minimum score of 6.5; and TOEFL scores of 20 or greater in Listening, Writing, Speaking, and Reading subsections.

For more information, please visit and/or contact STEP Program Director, Dr. Todd Schenk, at

STEP Graduate Certificate - Course Requirements

The STEP graduate program requires 12 credit hours of graduate-level coursework.
The core required courses are (10 credits total):

Policy Gateway: Policy and Decision Making in STEM-H Domains PSCI 5104 (SPIA 5104) (STS 5104) Key concepts in policymaking, including policy analysis and decision making in complex social and technical settings. Policy process theories and evaluation tools. Concepts of governance including public values, ethics, and variable impacts across communities. Relationships among public policy decision processes and science, technology, and engineering, including disciplinary norms. Pre: Graduate standing (3H, 3C)

Decision Making, Reflective Practice, and Engagement in STEM-H Domains SPIA 5124 (PSCI 5124) (STS 5124) In-depth, case-based exploration of roles of science, engineering and technology in policy-making. Application of theories, concepts and practices for policy decision-making, including stakeholder engagement, human behavior, and organizational development. Critical examination of ethics, and fostering of reflective practice. Implications of “big data”. Pre: Graduate standing (3H, 3C)

Tools and Approaches for Policy-Making in STEM-H Domains STAT 5134 (SPIA 5134) (PSCI 5134) Techniques for translating theory-driven, qualitative concepts into quantitative data-focused modeling. Quantitative and computational tools including statistical inference and hypothesis testing, system dynamics, and economic analysis. Modern data analytic practices, including good collection, storage, and visualization techniques. Understanding complexity. Critical examination of challenges and common pitfalls in quantitative modeling. Pre: Graduate standing (3H, 3C)

Science, Technology, and Engineering in Policy Seminar STS 5154 (SPIA 5154) (PSCI 5154) Presentation of research on STEM-H, public policy, and ethics. Professional development. Research resources and tools. Project management and funding opportunities. Publishing standards and processes across disciplines. STEM-H and policy practitioner engagement. Multidisciplinary communication. May be repeated up to six times, as seminar and presentation topics will change each semester. Pass/Fail only. Pre: Graduate standing (1H, 1C)

The additional 2 required credits may be acquired by taking a 5000 level or higher policy-related elective course from within your discipline. Alternatively, the credits may be acquired through: 

Communicating Science GRAD 5114 Practice-based pedagogy techniques for effective communication about scientific, technical, and health research. Application of communication techniques across public and professional audiences and a variety of oral and written communication contexts. Pre: Graduate standing (2H, 2C)