Hometown: Portland, OR
Graduated: 2015 with a degree in International Relations
What does your role as a Research Manager for Cities4Forests — an initiative focused on helping cities better conserve, manage, and restore urban green spaces, nearby watersheds, and tropical forests — entail?
At Cities4Forests, I am on the research team and I manage the Cities4Forests research that we send to our cities. One of our main goals is finding the best research that shows that trees and forests are beneficial for cities — on issues like health and wellbeing, water, climate and biodiversity. We’re also producing guidance on what the best forest tools for cities to start using, and we’re thinking about how we can advise them on creating forest policies and plans that are equitable, and inclusive of a variety of stakeholders. As the Research Manager, I’m thinking through what our research offers are, and creating these research offers and then engaging cities around our vision.
How does this research process work?
We work in a grant setting — so the goals of the research process are laid out through the grants that we receive. We’re usually working on long-term projects; projects that we do are shorter than in academia but longer than consulting projects might take. The research generally takes anywhere from six months to a year and a half, and we do this in collaboration with cities. On the day to day, we generally do have a set plan to achieve our research goals, but we’re also available and responsive to different city needs that come up in that time, as well as always looking for funding for the next research project.
What do you find to be the most meaningful aspect of your work with Cities4Forests?
I do this work because I like to feel like I’m creating a difference in the world. In the environmental world, the need is so big for work on climate issues, but also for work that supports the people who are most affected by a changing climate. And so I’m really thinking through, does the work that we’re doing lead to the change that we want? Is it actually helping the environment and the communities that we support? For me, the most engaging work that I do is work directly with the cities, hearing from the city leaders, to make sure that they can offer their residents the cleanest water, the healthiest air, and a safe climate for future generations.
While I was at Brown, I was always excited about the idea of international environmental policy, and I was looking for those types of opportunities. At the time, I wasn’t aware of how many opportunities there would be like this for young graduates, and so I was really excited to learn about the World Resources Institute (WRI) and then get hired there as a paid intern. WRI not only has this positive mission, but it also values its young staff and encourages them to take meaningful leadership opportunities.
How do you think your work now builds off of your studies at Brown?
The skills that I took away from Brown are not necessarily only the lessons I learned in class, but really the ability to think and organize my thoughts, and that is certainly applied to both a presentation setting and a writing setting. The classes that I took at Brown were instrumental in shaping my ability to communicate information to a wide range of audiences. I also worked at the Brown Journal of World Affairs, and that experience taught me not only how to edit material, but how to produce written work that others would want to read.
You recently returned to Brown to talk to students at the Careers in Policy, Politics and Development CareerCon event. How did it feel to share your career path with students?
It was great to be back on campus, and always great to meet with students. It feels both like I’ve come a long way and also like I was just in their shoes as I empathize with the challenge of trying to find that first job. It was great to hear from students reaching out about how they could get involved in this type of work, and it was very impactful to meet the students, and see that they already have so many things going for them.
--Elise Ryan '21