Alumnae Bulletin Fall 2008

Biology: Not Just For Pre-Med

Ann Gilliam Blair took her passion for the environment and incorporated it everything she did.

Anne Gilliam Blair photo

(Left) Anne Gilliam Blair assists student taking a wind measurement during a school bus emissions study conducted in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I pursued any opportunity I could to explore environmental issues…I was intentional about following my interests to a vocation.”

—Anne Gilliam Blair ’99

When Anne Gilliam Blair ’99 arrived at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, she knew she had an interest in the environment, but had no definite career plans. Like most of the College’s students—past and present—Anne spread her wings and used the solid liberal arts and sciences curriculum to forge a deep academic foundation for herself.

“Any class with an environmental name, I took it,”she remembers. “I pursued any opportunity I could to explore environmental issues, and that of course included biology. I was intentional about following my interests to a vocation.”

Those interests, and her strong liberal arts background, have taken her across the globe and spanned several varying careers. During her college years, Anne spent each summer traveling through various programs offered at R-MWC , always adding an environmental element to her studies.

Whether she was journaling about the environment while tracing Louis and Clark’s exploration of North America through the American Culture Program or traveling to Costa Rica or Zanzibar to study coastal ecology with the School of International Training, Anne used her studies and the many experiential learning opportunities offered by the College to gain insight and experience.

She put that intense College experience to use after graduation and saw first hand the value of an education that teaches students to look at the world with a critical and interdisciplinary view. Anne’s resume is long and varied and shows both her love of learning and the environment. She worked on the Watershed Program at River Network in Washington, D.C. before assuming the role of field biologist for AmeriCorps at Fire Island National Seashore in New York. She also worked as a field manager for The Fund for Public Interest ResearchGroup in Atlanta. Following a 6-month trip exploring the United States, she worked in consumer affairs with several other R-MWC alumnae at The Coca-Cola Company before returning to environmental work.

Each position, each experience, prepared her for the next role. She is now combining her rich background and love for the environment as the diesel and bioenergy program manager in Atlanta for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“I wanted to do something I really cared about and I believe that Dr. Eric Mitchell’s class on Environmental Economics catapulted me to the policy work I do now.”

Anne has worked for the organization for the past five years and promotes the policies and standards for renewable energy in a multi-state area including Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The goal of the non-profit environmental organization is to advocate for policies that incent the development and use of renewable energy.

The scope of her work is broad—from solar energy, to wind and ocean energy, to the promotion of bio mass energy through selective thinning of forests and gasifying farm scraps as fuel to replace the use of coal.

Along the way, Anne has become an expert on biopower, biofuels, and vehicle emissions. One remarkable project she undertook was a study to retrofit school buses with pollution control devices proven to reduce 90% of diesel emissions. Benefits include improved public health and the slowing of global warming.

Her research and policy recommendations are also used to lobby Congress to create standards and approve funds for federal programs on affordable sustainable energy and to require utilities to produce their energy from renewable sources.

Several years after Anne’s graduation, the College created two degree programs to respond to the growing interest in the environment. The programs include both a Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental studies and a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science. These programs, along with the many other interdisciplinary programs offered at the College, allow students to receive a rich liberal arts and sciences experience while focusing on a particular passion or interest.