Meet FLC Water Alum Ryan Barton!
Environmental Biology, 2013
By: Benjamin Brewer, FLC Class of 2022, Philosophy
- Hydrologist - Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources
- Board Member - National Tribal Land Association
Tribal Affiliation: Navajo (Diné) Nation (Indian Wells, AZ)
- Ryan Barton spent many of his summers as a youth herding sheep.
- Ryan read Archie comic books growing up.
- Ryan’s father worked at Peabody Coal Mine.
“Hydrology excites me because it allows me to think through and solve different issues. It’s looking at larger systems and seeing how they all fit together. Most importantly, it enables me to use my skill set to help better the lives of people.”
Ryan T. Barton (Environmental Biology, ‘13) is a puzzle solver, but instead of moving cardboard pieces into place, he is constantly solving much larger conundrums in the field. A Fort Lewis College alumnus and a member of the Navajo (Diné) Nation, Barton is a hydrologist for the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources (NNDWR) -- a job that allows him to think through and find solutions for different water issues. This aspect of the job, Barton says, is what is most compelling.
“It’s exciting to look at all these systems, these different pieces, and see how they fit together… The ability to track all these moving parts and problem solve,” says Barton.
More importantly, for Barton, it’s being able to use this unique insight to help people — a role he takes on rather selflessly.
“My job position isn’t about ‘Ryan,’” he says. “It’s ultimately about helping the Navajo People.”
Barton is originally from a community called Indian Wells, one of 110 chapters on the Navajo Reservation. In his youth, he spent much of his time outside — something he still does today.
“I’ve always been outside… herding sheep, chopping wood, and being useful,” says Barton. Years later, in his professional career, Barton continues to be of service to his community members as an employee of the NNDWR.
The NNDWR has made strides in the last few years to protect and provide access to clean, drinkable water for tribal members. For example, because of their efforts, the community of Westwater, Utah may finally have access to both electricity and running water. With the help of Barton, the NNDWR’s “Westwater Project” is close to providing these crucial amenities to a community that has been historically underserved by state and local governments. This project, among others, requires intensive fieldwork -- an area that Barton was prepared for by FLC.
Barton, then a non-traditional student in his 30s, graduated from Fort Lewis College in 2013 with a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental Biology — which, given his current field, is a degree that is highly versatile. During his time at FLC, Barton spent much of his time in the field. This experience, he believes, was the most instrumental in preparing him for his current role as a hydrologist.
“It was a broad mix of the different sciences, having excellent instructors, and the field work that helped prepare me,” says Barton.
During the completion of his undergraduate degree, he notes that the professors of FLC were inspirational.
“It was their enthusiasm for ecology that made me say ‘I want to study this more,’ and it was really motivating.”
Sometime after graduating, Barton got into the field of hydrology after applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Resources Technician Training Program.
“I applied to it, but instead they me hired as a temp associate hydrologist, and that’s how I got my start in the field of hydrology,” says Barton.
Speaking directly to the current students of FLC, he notes that opportunities like the ones offered to him must be actively sought and asked for.
“You have to go out and ask for what you want, even if it isn’t advertised,” says Barton. “But not everything is going to go right for you. So, you have to be resilient.”