Matthew Stepp

Philadelphia, PA
Environmental Advocacy
Director of Policy, PennFuture
Degree Program: 
MS, Science, Technology and Public Policy

"The program is structured perfectly for students transitioning from a science-based background to public policy."

Profile Questions

What is your current job?

Broadly speaking, I’m the Director of Policy at PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization in Pennsylvania. In practice, I wear a lot of hats. I’m the organizations chief lobbyist on local, state, and federal policy, meaning I spend most of my day engaging with elected officials and agencies on the important environmental policy issues of the day. I also formulate and advance PennFuture’s policy portfolio, including developing positions and working with other senior leadership on the strategies we use to meet our policy goals. I also a play a central role in statewide environmental coalitions formed to advance big, multi-year policy changes.


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

I was a scientist (meteorologist by training) looking to break into science-based policymaking. STSPP provided the necessary skills in analysis, writing, policy history, and critical thinking to make the transition.


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

Professionally, it was crucial. The program is structured perfectly for students transitioning from a science-based background to public policy. The small class sizes allowed for a lot of personal attention, which really helped hone key, fundamental tools like writing and analysis. When I left RIT and gained my first job, I was ahead of the game and was able to hit the ground running. I honestly don’t think I’d be as far as I am in my career if it weren’t for the Public Policy Program.

Personally, the public policy program was like a small family. The students and Professors were social and collegial. Everyone was in it together and learning wasn’t just narrowly focused on the time during class, but extended to times out of class as well. It was a truly wonderful environment and I made many close friends and colleagues through it.


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

I was surrounded by engineers! In practice, being at a technology-focused university helped focus my critical thinking on tough issues, whether it was from working collaborative with other students or engaging with staff. I learned how to break down tough issues and build analytical tools to simplify it, a skill I don’t think I would have received from a normal liberal arts education.



What experience most prepared you for life after RIT (i.e. class, faculty/staff member, extracurricular activity, etc.)?

Developing my thesis really forced me to hone my writing and analytical skills. I worked closely with faculty and other classmates on the 1.5 year long project and it really brought everything together for me.



What were you involved in outside of the classroom at RIT? I joined my first political campaigns as a student at RIT, both as a volunteer and staff.



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

The biggest challenge was breaking into the public policy world. It’s a small industry with a lot of personalities and colleagues that have been working in the space for decades. Getting the initial foothold is the hardest.

But once I gained my footing, I really grew in the industry. I worked to develop my own policy center in Washington, D.C. focused on clean energy innovation policy, which included testifying in front of Congress, international travel, and working with the White House and key agencies. I’m not directing environmental policy in Pennsylvania, advancing policies that will have impacts decades into the future. For a meteorologist born and raised in Philadelphia, I’m certainly having an outsized impact!



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

Keep doing what you’re doing and stay driven and focused. The world is crazy and life is demanding, but through it all you have to keep focused on your goals and keep striving for them. It’s too easy to lose focus and forget everything you’ve worked for.