COLA Connections Newsletter: Summer 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Bryan Comer-- Discovering Ways to Reduce Air Pollution

Dr. Bryan Comer is a Public Policy graduate who works at the International Council on Clean Transportation, an independent think-tank in Washington, DC that provides technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators.

What is your current job?

I study ways to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of air pollution and greenhouse gases from ships and ports. My research influences policymaking at the International Maritime Organization, the specialized UN agency that regulates international shipping. My work cuts across the fields of policy analysis, program evaluation, economics, and public health.

Why did you choose to major in Public Policy/STSPP?

Originally, I was interested in politics, but I was interested in learning more about environmental and energy policy. Once in the Public Policy program, I learned that I could produce technically sound policy analysis that could be used to influence environmental policy decision-making. That appealed to me because I wanted to do work that had a real-world impact. Public policy allows for that.

Tell us about how your RIT experience, particularly your experience in the Public Policy Program, influenced your life personally and professionally?

The faculty and staff of the Public Policy department changed my life. The Public Policy Program is full of talented, passionate people that encouraged me to continue my education and showed me that policy analysis, combined with persuasive communication, can change the world. The professional and personal connections I made while at RIT are the reason why I have my dream job and why I live in an exciting and vibrant city like D.C.

How has a liberal arts education at a technology-focused university set you apart from your peers and colleagues?

When I was applying for my current job, I used the fact that I earned liberal arts degrees at a technology-focused school as a major selling point. I explained that at RIT, you develop solid technical analytical skills with a focus on applying those skills to solve real-world problems. Also, working with leaders in the field of environmental transportation policy, such as Dean James J. Winebrake set me apart.

What experience most prepared you for life after RIT?

Professionally, the policy analysis series of courses most prepared me for life after RIT. In that series, I developed analytical skills that are applicable to nearly any public policy problem. Additionally, the connections I forged with RIT faculty and staff have opened many doors for me. I still interact regularly with RIT faculty and staff more than eight years after graduating.

What were you involved in outside of the classroom at RIT?

When I started at RIT in 2003, one was hard pressed to find an orange T-shirt in the bookstore; now, school spirit flourishes. One reason is our perennially successful Division I ice hockey teams. I’m happiest when I’m at an RIT Hockey game. I still go to at least one game per year, usually the Homecoming Game at Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester.

What challenges and successes have you experience up to this point in your career?

A major challenge was trying to get a job in public policy after I graduated in 2009. The global financial crisis meant that social science positions were scarce. After a year of doing ad hoc policy analysis consulting work, I decided to go back to grad school and earn a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy at SUNY-ESF. During this time, I did four fellowships (akin to RIT’s co-op program), including stints at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor, the Great Lakes Commission in Ann Arbor, and the International Council on Clean Transportation in Washington, D.C. These fellowships helped me gain valuable real-world experience and the last fellowship led to full employment.

If you could go back to graduation day what advice would you give yourself?

Build your personal and professional networks deliberately. Be a friendly, cheerful, and reliable and you’ll find that these connections will elevate you farther than you could make it alone.