When he was growing up, Robbie Rioux’s family vacation in 21 meant going to state parks. These camping trips nurtured his love for nature and the outdoors and led him to take an environmental science class in high school. The Syracuse, NY native had no idea this would later inspire him to continue his education at Yale University, where he would earn a master’s degree in environmental science.
Rioux will work with Gaboury Benoit, professor of environmental chemistry, during the two-year research program. Benoit deals with water quality issues and is currently studying the issues of microplastics, urban waste and stormwater management infrastructure.
In high school, when Rioux was thinking about his professional interests, he was thinking about what he wanted his future to look like. âI never wanted to be in an office,â he said. âI didn’t want to go in and work in a booth under fluorescent lights all day. I’ve always had that in mind. “
In the fall of his freshman year at Hamilton, he studied environmental geology with Professor Todd Rayne. They explored the issues of pollution and water quality, which helped him build his foundation of understanding for his future work. That summer, he got an internship at the Syracuse Water Service.
âI drove around this lake every day. I was working with my boss, other government agencies and landlords, âRioux said. âI was paid to be outside, to walk around people’s properties, to be on a lake and on a boat. I’m like, ‘This is amazing.’ This is where I [thought], ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be outside, in the field, I want to work with people who solve problems.
In addition to the water department, Rioux interned with a soil and water conservation district and the Department of Environmental Conservation during his summers in Hamilton. Most recently, during the winter break, he worked with a non-profit organization that focuses on water issues in the Onondaga watershed.
âI’ve done a lot of things with water quality and water issues, and these are very interesting issues,â said Rioux. âThey’re holistic, complex, and really important, especially in upstate New York. When I was working with the water department, I was working in a watershed where I got my drinking water from, and there are a bunch of water quality issues in the lake that they have to fix, so trying to solve these problems is to protect the source water for maybe 185,000 people.
âDoing things like that makes sense, and I think it’s also something that you can find solutions to. It can be frustrating to fight the right fight, but feeling like there is no real progress, and I feel like you can make real progress in protecting the quality of the water, especially in freshwater bodies, âhe said.
His fall of sophomore, Rioux took up climate change with assistant professor of environmental studies Aaron Strong. During the summer he had observed harmful algal blooms on the lake. In Strong’s course he was placed in a water quality group where they read articles on water quality issues. One concerned harmful algal blooms affecting climate change.
âI was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy,’â Rioux said. âIt wasn’t something I had really thought about or made a connection to. I really liked the paper, I really liked the issue, and I really liked that I had a connection and experience with it before, so I’ve used it ever since.
A graduate in environmental sciences, Rioux focused his thesis on harmful algal blooms in Lake Skaneateles. âIt’s partly because of the internship I had and mostly because of Aaron, his class and his constant encouragement,â said Rioux. âHe was the one who told me to apply to Yale as well. Like, who sits down and is like, “Yeah, am I going to apply to Yale?” ” Not me. I wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t told me.
After obtaining his master’s degree, Rioux hopes to work as a research scientist in a government agency, at the state or federal level. He wants a job open to the public, serving the public, investigating water issues and resources. He is also interested in getting his doctorate. to be able to teach.
âI’m in for a very bittersweet moment right now,â Rioux said. âMy time in Hamilton is coming to an end, but then I’m going to Yale to continue my studies. I can’t wait to see what happens and the way things are going. “