row2k Features
Syracuse's Kate Ryan
February 8, 2023
Erik Dresser,

Syracuse senior Kate Ryan

This week's row2k Interview is with Syracuse senior Kate Ryan. We talk with Ryan on environmental sustainability, rowing in the cold, and more.

row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?

Kate Ryan - Before I found rowing, I was a competitive gymnast. Standing twelve inches taller than most of my competition, and with an ACL injury as the result of a flawed landing on a twisting backflip, I started rowing in my junior year of high school. I found a rowing club in the quiet corner of Old Lyme, Connecticut called Blood Street Sculls. After flipping a single, a pair, and a few doubles along the way, I caught on to the sport quickly and grew to admire the technical aspects of making boats go fast. I am incredibly thankful to my coach, Paul Fuchs, for introducing me to this wonderful sport and for encouraging me to continue with it in college.

row2k - How did you decide to attend Syracuse?

Kate Ryan - When I visited Syracuse, I was really impressed by the culture of hard work and kindness that persisted not only on the rowing team, but through the entire Syracuse community. I think living in Syracuse is incredibly character building because the snowy winters leave no choice but to cultivate a strong community and develop an esteem for challenges. I turned down what had been my dream school because I knew the culture at Syracuse was one that would develop me into a person I was proud to be. My gut feeling to join the Orange family led me to mentorships and opportunities I wouldn’t trade for an education at any other school.

row2k - What are you studying at Syracuse? You’ve done a fair amount of work with environmental sustainability; can you tell us about a bit about that? Do you have any plans for after graduation?

Kate Ryan - Although I was primarily a biology student, I challenged myself to take one additional class each semester which would challenge the way I viewed the world, brought me joy, or taught me a new skill. With this initiative, in addition to adoring ecology lab, I grew to love philosophy courses, learned about wildfires and extreme weather events, and examined environmental ethics from religions across the world.

Through an honors seminar course titled, The Role of Science in Environmental Governance, I studied how mercury cycles through the environment and the diplomatic process stakeholders use to agree on environmental issues which transcend political boundaries. My professor invited our class to represent Syracuse University as participant observers at COP3 for the Minamata Convention on Mercury at the UN in Switzerland. This experience hit especially close to home because I learned that Onondaga Lake, the waterbody on which I train every day, was once one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites for industrial pollution clean-up. It was exciting for me to study the policy implications and ecological restoration of the lake where I dedicated so much of my college experience.

Ryan (7-seat) rowing on Onondaga Lake (courtesy of SU Athletics)
Ryan (7-seat) rowing on Onondaga Lake (courtesy of SU Athletics)

I devoted the rest of my time in undergrad to learning about environmental policymaking, and becoming knowledgeable on both the science and policy nuances which affect climate change. I graduated with a triple major in Biology; Environment, Sustainability, and Policy; and Geography. With an additional year of NCAA eligibility due to COVID-19, I am now pursuing a Master of Public Administration with a focus in environmental policy. As a research fellow in the Dynamic Sustainability Lab, I explore policies for voluntary carbon markets as well as the financing and public incentives for renewable energy transitions – such as offshore wind energy and electric vehicles. I am currently looking at the development of a carbon intensity label which would track and communicate to consumers the accumulation of carbon emissions for commodities’ production. I love this project because it requires the harmonization of a complex bundle of industries – from Blockchain to insurance to agriculture to marketing!

I have had the privilege of representing Syracuse University in Washington D.C. for this research and as a consultant for the State of Rhode Island’s electric vehicle transition. After graduation, I hope to continue my research on carbon markets and eventually contribute to environmental governance on the international stage.

row2k - What are some things that the rowing community can do to best help?

Kate Ryan - Organizing green regattas, promoting re-usable water bottles, and responsibly disposing of old equipment are all great initiatives to promote sustainability in rowing. However, I also think we hold great power as individuals. This past year we witnessed the tremendous power of voter turnout when the Inflation Reduction Act passed through the Senate, and allocated billions of dollars towards climate initiatives.

Second, we must believe in good science. In rowing we stress the importance of a positive mindset. A teammate brought to my attention the quote, “If you like to win, but think you can’t, it’s almost certain you won’t” (Walter Wintle). I think the same can be said for the discourse on global climate policy. It can be easy to fall victim to the narrative that climate change will alter future generations’ lives for the worst. It is imperative, however, that we believe in the institutions, leaders, and technologies of our generation because without this belief we are certain to fail.

row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?

Kate Ryan - Doc Hosea last spring was the coldest, strongest headwind I have ever raced in. I remember we pushed off the dock with hand warmers in our socks and unis! As we progressed through the race, it became evident that we were well prepared for the conditions. It isn’t always easy to be a rower in Syracuse due to the brutal winter weather, but our team has learned to make the most of it by becoming so resilient to challenges. After chipping away at the course, one gnarly stroke at a time, we crossed the line with huge grins on our faces and put down a great time. While the whole experience feels absurd in retrospect, I think it became one of my favorite races because of the unrelenting mentality that characterized every stroke of that race.

row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?

Kate Ryan - Team. Rowing requires a delicate balance of grace, power, intelligence, rhythm, and determination. When a boat moves well, the rush of wind and flow of water can lull you into a peaceful bliss surrounded by cotton candy skies, waterfowl, and leafy vegetation. However, fierce competition demands more than seeking joy from the next stroke. Winning in this sport demands discipline, trust, and belief which is cultivated during grueling erg workouts, or early sessions on the water when the sun has yet to rise. I am so proud to be on a team with a culture that finds joy through working hard together and for each other. This sport can be incredibly demanding yet being a part of a supportive and tenacious team inspires me to make every stroke better than my last.

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