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Say Yes Alumnus – Rob Rioux

Up-and-coming Ph.D. candidate Rob Rioux reflects on his time from high school to now.

Corcoran High School 2017 alumnus Rob Rioux was involved in many sports and activities while he was in high school, including robotics and stage crew. But it was the self-directed service activity he started called “Corcoran Cleanup Crew,” that would turn out to be a precursor for his continued education and career in the environmental field.

While Rob and his Corcoran Cleanup Crew of volunteers picked up trash and litter, pushed back weeds, and ripped out invasive plants and landscaping to increase the facade of the Corcoran campus, he never stopped thinking about what he could do next. His studies were important to him and he was excited about the idea of furthering his education.

Rob had heard a lot about Say Yes Syracuse when he was in high school. He notes that every class he was in mentioned the idea of utilizing Say Yes. He said, “It was emphasized to do well, work hard, succeed, and Say Yes would be there to make the college process easier.”

Rob’s higher education began at Hamilton College from 2017 to 2021, where he majored in environmental studies with a minor in government.

He pursued environmental science for two reasons; first, his IB environmental systems and societies teacher, Mr. Williams, was a beloved mentor and advisor who inspired his interest. Second, being from Syracuse, with a deep history of environmental degradation of the watershed, including one of the most polluted sites in America, was a significant motivator to be a part of the change.

A $5,000 a-year recipient for four years from Say Yes Syracuse, Rob notes that the funds were significant to his success. His school also met 100% of need-based financial aid. “Say Yes made the burden of paying for college that much easier, which was huge and was super helpful,” he said.

Following his undergraduate graduation, Rob pursued a master’s degree from Yale School of the Environment in environmental science, graduating in 2023. Rob was recently accepted to the Yale School of the Environment as an environmental studies Ph.D. candidate.

On his journey through success, Rob has held many positions:

He was a research intern for the Onondaga Environmental Institute Inc., where he conducted experiments and water sampling in furtherance of research into the Tully Mudboil Depression Area and aided in a long-term study on the impacts of road salt on the tributaries of Onondaga Lake.

Rob was a graduate consultant for Bonduelle Fresh Americas, where he analyzed water resource materiality and related risk across multiple geographies.

He was a Corporate Water Risk Teaching Fellow, where he facilitated a student-led course that provides a platform for students across Yale to collaborate and work with a client on a current water-related business or supply-chain question.

In addition to his college roles, Rob has done extensive work with the Yale School of Environment, including as a Graduate Research Assistant, Water Learning Community Co-Lead, and Physicla Science of Climate Change Teaching Fellow.

Rob’s Ph.D. candidacy will focus on purposeful CO2 removal from the atmosphere, an area of growing interest in climate adaptation and climate change mitigation.

He notes, “I have five years of school left, which can be daunting, but I’m excited; I’m at a great school and working with people doing cool things. I have many resources at my disposal, which will make my work more tangible and actionable.”

Now a New Haven, Connecticut resident for two years, Rob notes that it’s very reminiscent of Syracuse: a robust immigrant population, a large research university, an interactive city surrounded by woods and trees, and lakes.

Post Ph.D. graduation, Rob hopes to be at a level such that he has some say or ability to promote policy or research to protect our environment and continually adapt to climate change. He hopes to help restore some of our environment and national resources.

He said, “No one’s going to hold your hand and make the community better; it’s up to you to do it and work on your situation and your community to improve it.”

Rob advises young professionals, “Work hard and follow your passion. I truly believe that that is what it takes to be successful.” He continues, “Whatever you are passionate about and whatever goals you want to achieve, work hard for them, and it will happen. And as long as you are passionate, even the hard times will be easier.”