Tyler Barron ('15), Policy Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC)
"The thing I really like is that our office just cares about getting stuff done. I think it's because of that culture that we win a lot." Tyler Barron '15 is a Policy Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center (EPLC) in Chicago, where he works with cities on transforming climate change commitments into tangible action, among other projects.
Tyler's passion for sustainability dates back to his roots in Ann Harbor, MI. "My interest in it [sustainability] started more from a stewardship lens." He grew up in a community that cherished the clean air, clean water, and forests that were so important for life. As Tyler grew, his idea of sustainability grew.
After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in Sociology and American Studies, Tyler went to work for the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. "Notre Dame prepared me well to use the broad skills that I learned to inject myself into anything," he says. He saw his first job as an opportunity to explore and assess what he wanted to work on, and he knew that his degree from Notre Dame laid the groundwork for a graduate degree. While striving to determine his path Tyler identified people who he admired and whose careers he wanted to emulate. The people who he asked for career advice turned out to be policy and political consultants. "I picked their brains and they all said the same thing," Tyler remembers. "Soft skills are how you get in the door…but the way you really set yourself apart is if you can you use those soft skills to really put your hard skills to use."
This realization led him to a graduate program with significant quantitative elements. Tyler's two year Master in Public Policy program at the University of Chicago "was no joke." The first year was almost entirely math and the second year focused on applying those skills to the topics he wanted to work on. "In the long run it was great and in the short run it was 'what am I doing here?'" Tyler says.
When it came time to look for jobs after graduate school Tyler made a list of firms that had a culture he fit with and were also working on issues he cared about. At the EPLC, he would have an opportunity to work with cities on renewable energy, would be part of a team committed to getting things done and would also expand his skills on several other projects. The offer intrigued him with "enough specifics to draw me in but enough vagueness to also draw me in," Tyler explains.
There isn't a typical day at work for Tyler, who balances constantly shifting priorities as stakeholders change and budgets shift. He works with cities, including Fort Wayne, West Lafayette, and South Bend, to implement climate action. This starts with "making sure cities know we want to help," Tyler says, emphasizing the importance of communicating that they have grant money and aren't looking for payment. The specific approach varies based on the cities' needs and resources, but the project focuses on municipal fleet electrification, big renewable energy projects and adding new renewables to the grid. Tyler loves getting cities to act, as each victory is "a drop in a very big bucket that needs to fill up with successes."
"You want to start off your career as a swiss army knife and eventually become a chef's knife," Tyler suggests for young sustainability professionals. He seems to be following his own advice, cherishing opportunities to try something new, while continuing to refine his tactical policy skills. He emphasizes, "Explore and explore in a way that allows you to become a better speaker and writer."