Ryan Hanley: Going His Own Way

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Ryan Hanley, '18 Environmental Science, sees how the earth's many natural, social and political processes unite into one system.

Ryan Hanley isn’t afraid to go his own way. “I’m scared of not starting my own thing,” he said. Hanley’s perspective is borne of experience. The 34 year-old has been taking care of himself since age 17. “I was kicked out of my dad’s house when I was a teenager,” he said.

A few years later, at age 20, Hanley’s mother (his parents divorced when he was a kid) went to prison for embezzling half a million dollars from a property management company. “We both worked for the company and the owner included me in the lawsuit and my mother didn’t defend me,” said Hanley. The owner eventually dropped the lawsuit against Hanley. However, the situation with his mother deteriorated. “She ended up draining the money in my bank account,” he said. “I was on vacation in Arizona and went to an ATM. I got a receipt back showing a negative $3,000 balance.”

Out of a job, out of money and without a place to go Hanley had a choice to make. “I wasn’t going to be defined by that experience,” he said. “I knew that if I didn’t do something for myself then no one would.” Hanley started his own painting and landscaping businesses. The latter spoke to his interest in science, a budding passion that eventually led him to college. “I was trying to promote green gardening but I really didn’t know the science behind how it worked,” said Hanley.

By that point Hanley hadn’t been in school for close to a decade. His previous exposure to higher education didn’t go well. “I did Running Start but didn’t take it seriously,” he said “It was an excellent opportunity and I took it for granted. I knew when I went back that I’d be focused and ready to go.”

Hanley enrolled at Tacoma Community College in 2013. He earned an associate of science degree with an emphasis in botany. When it came time to choose a transfer school Hanley knew where he wanted to go—UW Tacoma. “I only applied to this school,” he said. “It was my dream to be accepted here.”

Hanley has been busy. His time at UW Tacoma has been marked by achievement. He served as president of the Golden Key Society. Hanley, an environmental science major, founded the Environmental Science Association. “I saw the need for a science club on campus,” he said. Hanley also served as a Bamford Fellow during 2017-2018 where he conducted research into desalinization. The paper he produced for the project will be published to UW Tacoma’s Digital Commons. Hanley added to his list of accomplishments in the spring of 2017 when he was named to the Husky 100.

There’s a difference between relying on yourself and not caring about others. Hanley has a passion for solving problems. It’s one reason why he decided to pursue environmental science while minoring in global engagement. “The Earth has many processes but it’s really one system,” he said. “Global engagement is about different cultures and the social and political aspects that inform decision making. You have to understand these different cultures and systems in order to work together.”

True to form, Hanley has started yet another business. This one is focused on environmental consulting. However, he’s put it on the back burner for now. Hanley begins work on his master’s degree in marine and environmental affairs at UW Seattle in the fall.

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Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / June 6, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu