Nicole Ryan

Nicole Ryan in Peru

Meet Nicole Ryan: graduate student ­– Master of Science / Master of Science in Engineering, Class of 2017
Field of study: Engineering Sustainable Systems
Hometown: Raleigh, NC

What brought you to SEAS?
I came to SEAS to shift my career slightly. My undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, and prior to coming to SEAS I worked for a utility company and for a consulting firm, both in the power sector. I really enjoyed my work, but I wanted to shift my focus to projects that would improve sustainability and help mitigate climate change. In order to do this I felt I needed to understand what sustainability really means and how to assess it.

Describe your learning experience at SEAS.
I have taken a lot of great classes at SEAS, some being very technical like Environmental Systems Analysis and others focusing more on policy like Climate Adaptation. But I have learned the most in my activities outside the classroom — my research, my work with Sustainability Without Borders (a student organization sponsored by SEAS's Center for Sustainable Systems), and my attendance of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), the most recent meeting of the countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Paris.

How did attending COP21 change your perspective on global sustainability?
I enjoy working on engineering challenges related to mitigation and adaptation but have always felt that without strong policies we will not make any progress to prevent drastic climate change. Although the UNFCCC is extremely high level and there is not a lot of hope for the agreement to have real bite, I still believe policy is what will motivate change. I was excited to see so many people at COP21 that had a real drive to improve sustainability whatever their reason, be it to protect their livelihood, their culture, or their economic interests. I observed that a lot of people want to fight climate change and live more sustainably; however, there is not a true understanding of what that really means and some of the sacrifices that are going to have to be made to get there.

What’s on deck for you after SEAS?
Wherever my career is based, be that in a national lab, for an NGO, in government, or elsewhere, I want to be working on projects that will have an influence on energy policies and help drive reductions in our resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.