Hillary Swimmer ’22 Maps out Maine’s Climate Goals

Internship supported by Buck Lab for Climate and Environment demonstrates how policy translates into action

Hillary Swimmer '22
By Linzy Rosen '22Photography by Gregory Rec
January 18, 2022

States and cities across the nation are releasing far-reaching climate goals and policies to address the worsening effects of climate change. They’ve put pen to paper. But what happens next? 

“It always did seem a bit abstract to me,” said Hillary Swimmer ’22, reflecting on her experience in environmental policy classes. “We would read policies, and I thought I understood them. But I didn’t really understand how they came into play and actually affected people’s lives.”

Maine provided the perfect case study. 

Over Jan Plan 2021, Swimmer interned with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), a nonprofit pioneering collaborative solutions to global ocean challenges. There, she coauthored a first-ever report that synthesized how GMRI projects directly address more than half of the state’s sweeping climate goals. 

It showed her how one forward-thinking organization is taking real-world action to move beyond pen and paper to make a climate-smart future a reality. Swimmer’s analysis helps to educate the public and the institute’s stakeholders—including fishermen, business owners, and policymakers—on how they’re putting far-reaching goals into action. 

Swimmer’s internship was supported by the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment, established by Trustee Sandy Buck ’78 and Sissy Buck. Her third Buck Lab opportunity as a student, this internship exemplified the lab’s goal of connecting Colby students and faculty with community partners for collaboration on a range of environmental opportunities.

To produce her report, Swimmer interviewed GMRI scientists, examined nearly 100 of their recent and ongoing projects, and categorized them into a detailed outline. She mapped out where each project assists in achieving specific goals in the state’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), called Maine Won’t Wait. Among other objectives, the four-year plan outlines strategies to ​​decrease Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach statewide carbon neutrality by 2045. 

Swimmer co-authored her report with Dave Reidmiller, the director of the climate center at GMRI. Previously, Reidmiller held positions at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the State Department, and was the lead U.S. science and technology negotiator for the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Taking on a project of this magnitude in a condensed time frame in a completely virtual environment was a tall order,” said Reidmiller. “But it was clear early on in our partnership that Hillary was equipped with the analytical skills and intellectual curiosity to really hit it out of the park.”

Swimmer critically analyzed CAP’s aim of strengthening the sustainability of the seafood industry. One target, for example, is to increase the amount of local food produced and sold in Maine, which Swimmer identified as being advanced by GMRI’s numerous sustainable aquaculture initiatives

GMRI is currently working to spread best practices among sustainable aquaculture businesses and lay the foundation for Maine’s upcoming aquaculture workforce training system. It’s also implementing other industry-driven initiatives related to the seafood supply chain. These projects are critical in ensuring that salmon, scallops, oysters, and mussels fill Mainers’ plates—and meet ambitious climate goals. 

Through analyses of the institute’s publications and interviews with experts across its interdisciplinary departments, Swimmer learned the various ways that climate change adaptation and mitigation can take shape. “That was really valuable for me,” the Chicago native said. 

Swimmer learned immensely from Reidmiller’s expertise and experience navigating the policy arena. “​​Since the internship, he’s really served as a wonderful mentor for me,” she said.

Mentorship is equally rewarding for Reidmiller, who feels that the most valuable tool for early-career individuals is a “network of mentors and champions who can open doors, share lessons learned, and help them navigate the professional complexities of life after college.”

As the environmental policy major and studio art minor explores her next steps, she’s armed with an enhanced understanding of policy implementation and a strengthened professional network. 

“My opportunities funded by the Buck Lab have been very formative to my college experience and have really set me up for what I think will be success in the future,” Swimmer said.

It’s a future ripe for minds like Swimmer’s. “These folks are undoubtedly going on to achieve great things,” Reidmiller said of Colby students. “And, frankly, solve the problems we haven’t yet been able to.”