David Rankin, ’81 Miami grad and former honors student, has a straightforward goal in life: “I want my daughter to live in a better world than the one I grew up in. I try to help shape that world, and work with her so that she can do the same for her kids.”
David began tackling this goal even before he started his career, developing new ways to test water quality and designing management prescriptions for polluted waters as an undergraduate at Miami. After graduation and helping to build a program to control toxic polluters for the State of Ohio, David worked for the federal government as an expert on water, pollution control, and environmental management. He then joined the not-for-profit sector building ecosystem-scale conservation efforts for the world’s largest land trust. He also studied strategy at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management and received his MBA with High Honors from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.
Now Vice President of Programs for the Great Lakes Protection Fund, he designs and finances efforts to solve environmental problems in the Great Lakes. “We focus on catalytic innovations—new ways to do new things. We engage business, advocates, academics, and government in solving big problems.” says David. For example, Fund-supported teams created the world’s first ballast water treatment systems. These systems keep ships from moving non-native species around the globe. “Once a treatment option existed, the governments began to set standards requiring their use, and carriers began managing the biota in their ballast tanks.” Other Fund-supported initiatives have led to more than 10 million acres of sustainably managed forests in the Great Lakes watershed, new financial products that support sustainable agriculture, and restored health to over 1500 miles of rivers by changing how hydropower operates in the region.
David traces the roots of many of his successes to his time at Miami University. David is a graduate of the Western College Program and received his Bachelor of Philosophy in 1981, with a concentration in Environmental Science. He found great value in the interdisciplinary nature of the Western Program and the learning opportunities offered to him in his honors courses. These allowed him to “sit down with scholars who led their fields and learn directly from them.”
Taking honors seminars on Natural Systems, Anthropology, and Philosophy, David found his learning encompassed a wide variety of subjects. He studied literature, art, and the intersection of natural systems and language as phenomena. David notes, “It was pretty easy to see the value – because I had a boatload of seminar courses as a freshman or sophomore and they were incredible!”
It was these opportunities to learn outside his focus that sharpened his abilities to do rigorous scientific research as an undergraduate and led to his graduate work in management, strategy and finance. Utilizing Miami’s laboratories, he modeled the nutrient dynamics in the Western College duck pond. Working with several peers, he then laid out a prescription to make the pond a healthier ecosystem – a process that closely mirrored what was being done during the same time to Lake Erie at a governmental level. His senior project created a new bioassay that shows the stress of toxic compounds on aquatic life before conditions become lethal.
These days, when he is not spending time outdoors with his wife, Kristen Westman, and their daughter Jenny, David designs new ways to protect and restore the health freshwater ecosystems. He sees a clear connection between his studies, the type of learning he encountered at Miami, and his professional experience. In each case, he continues to keep a wide perspective in his pursuit of his goal. As David notes, “I think that the critical thinking skills that are built in honors and interdisciplinary programs help us be a bit less myopic in our view of the world.”