Brian McKenna EMSTL 2018: Climate Leadership Summit in Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Brown University Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership (EMSTL) Class of 2018 student Brian McKenna is an atmospheric expert at RPS ASA, one of the world’s pre-eminent environmental consulting firms. McKenna is optimizing his skills in Brown’s EMSTL to help facilitate the type of cross-disciplinary conversations needed to navigate today’s complex, global challenges.

McKenna was recently asked to oversee a working group at a high-level Naval War College conference at Brown University. Keynoted by Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth (Brown 1977), the conference convened a group of heavy hitters across industry, academia, government, the military, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to analyze and evaluate civilian-military responses to humanitarian disasters.

“The conference began with Hurricane Harvey headed straight toward Houston,” said McKenna. “It was a stark reminder to everyone in the room how high the stakes were to improve emergency response coordination, specifically the time-critical and complex sequencing between military and NGO first responders. As the leader of the group focused on climate change and sea-level rise, I was keenly aware that my job was to make sure that stakeholders, from humanitarian relief experts to meteorologists, spoke to the group from their area of expertise and not in it.”

To do this McKenna relied heavily on the skills he is developing in the Brown EMSTL program.

“From Professor Robert Allio’s class on the theory and practice of leadership, I applied lessons learned about adapting leadership styles to different circumstances on the fly. From Professor Robin Rose, who advised me for weeks in preparation of the event, I learned actual techniques, including how to have difficult conversations, to make sure everyone’s needs are met.”

In the end, McKenna’s team made it past the finish line with flying colors.

“The experience was definitely challenging. As expected, it was difficult to get everyone to accept other points of view. We were that diverse of a group with strong-willed experts used to testifying on the Hill. I held team building activities during the first group dinner which helped going into the next day but I still had to occasionally step in and balance behavior and voice. I’m proud to say that we delivered our report on the second day and it was well-received by the other groups.”

Brown Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies Timmons Roberts participated in McKenna’s working group and shared,

“McKenna did a great job getting a diverse set of headstrong senior experts to row in the same direction.”

McKenna’s experience demonstrates that today’s challenges demand heads from different domains working closely and productively together. This type of cross pollination doesn’t just happen. It has to be engineered. Brown EMSTL leadership gives you the leadership skills to create these kinds of cross collaborative conversations to make a difference. 

In the words of McKenna,

“The next time you see a natural disaster unfold on TV, know that this is the kind of hard work and leadership that’s required today to make real world impact.”

Brian McKenna, EMSTL ’18

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