President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have named Ike Irby M.P.P. ’17, Ph.D. ’17 as Policy Advisor in the Office of the Vice President. Irby, who earned joint graduate degrees from William & Mary and its Virginia Institute of Marine Science in 2017, previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor to Harris in the U.S. Senate, covering climate, environment, energy, transportation, and infrastructure.
Irby brings both a science and policy background to the nation’s capital, with a Ph.D. degree from the School of Marine Science at VIMS and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Public Policy Graduate Program at W&M. He responded to the announcement in a tweet, writing, “Truly honored to serve as Policy Advisor to the next Vice President, Kamala Harris. The climate crisis is the challenge of our time, and I look forward to continue fighting for climate and environmental justice, the protection of our planet, and an equitable future.”
Irby’s advisor at VIMS, Research Professor Marjorie Friedrichs, describes the joint degree program as extremely demanding. “Ike had to juggle a heavy class load on main campus while keeping up with his classes and modeling research at VIMS,” says Friedrichs. “He succeeded in these endeavors because of his exceptional scholarship, character, leadership and service.”
In a 2019 video, Irby describes how his W&M/VIMS education stoked a lifelong passion for public policy.
VIMS Dean and Director John Wells says "Ike is a rising star who will have a significant influence on policy at the highest level of government, and will continue to bring well-deserved recognition to VIMS and W&M throughout his career."
Professor Linda Schaffner, Associate Dean of Academic Studies at VIMS, concurred, adding, “Ike is a shining example of the outstanding young scholars from VIMS and W&M who have gone on to significant leadership positions in science and policy.”
For his dissertation, Irby assessed the performance of the computer models used to forecast how nutrient-reduction strategies and climate change impact water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. His work was recognized with receipt of W&M’s highest award for a graduate or professional student, the Thatcher Prize for Excellence, as well as VIMS’ Best Paper Award for his article in Biogeosciences titled “Challenges associated with modeling low-oxygen waters in Chesapeake Bay: a multiple model comparison.”
In a press release announcing the new White House positions, President-elect Biden said “Building our nation back better requires having the best and the brightest in our administration. These accomplished individuals have the knowledge and expertise to hit the ground running on day one and will work each day in service to the American people.”
Vice President-elect Harris added, “These deeply experienced public servants reflect the very best of our nation. Their leadership will be critical as we work to meet the challenges facing the American people—from the coronavirus pandemic to this economic recession to our climate crisis and long-overdue reckoning on racial injustice. I am proud to announce these individuals will be joining my team and look forward to working alongside them each and every day.”
A return to the White House
Irby is no stranger to the White House, having served there in 2014 during graduate school as an intern in the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the second Obama administration. Established by Congress in 1976, OSTP provides the President and his senior staff with relevant scientific and technical advice, ensures the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science, and coordinates scientific and technical work to provide the greatest benefit to America.
Following his graduation from VIMS, Irby returned to Washington, D.C. as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Geophysical Union and American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was in this position that he first began working with then-Senator Harris of California, a state with 840 miles of ocean shoreline and a major economic and cultural interest in marine resources. In this role, Irby led the legislative team advising the Senator on issues related to the environment, energy, climate, and space.
Prior to earning his Ph.D. at VIMS, Irby was a physics and earth science teacher in Missouri. He grew up in Colorado and graduated from Bowdoin College as an undergraduate. Irby matriculated in the School of Marine Science at VIMS in 2012.