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TILLMAN TUESDAY: Scholar Peter Brooks Works to Provide Solutions to Global Water Challenges

Pat Tillman Foundation Communications   |   By Jill Walsh   |   June 2, 2015
While Peter focuses on water distribution and renewable electricity, his wife Lily started Block Shop Textiles and writes a column for vogue.com

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, nearly 350 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support.

In this week’s Tillman Tuesday we catch up with 2012 Tillman Scholar Peter Brooks who graduated from Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School in 2014 with a joint degree in Master in Business Administration and Master in Public Policy. A former Rifle Platoon Commander in the Marine Corps, Brooks served two deployments from 2007 – 2009. Brooks currently works as the Director of Business Development at NLine Energy, Inc. a renewable energy company that converts wasted energy within water infrastructure into clean electricity.

What made you decide to join the Marines?

“I was a senior in high school when September 11th happened. It woke me up to the fact the world is a potentially dangerous place and that for America to exist it requires someone to serve in its defense. I started off in NAVY ROTC while an undergrad at Harvard, and then switched to Marines half way through when I decided I wanted to be closer to the ground. For me, joining the service was a combination of wanting to serve and see if I could measure up to it while being exposed to a whole new world.”

How long did you serve and what did your deployments entail?

“I served four years of active duty as an Infantry Officer, and two deployments from 2007-09 at which time I served as an Infantry Platoon Commander. Shortly before I left the Marines in 2010, I served as a Rifle Company Commander and Assistant Operations Officer. My deployments entailed city operations, living with Iraqis and helping them transfer control. We were able to successfully hand over the control to them and see the five great years of stability.

During my time in Iraq, I became interested in water resources. We mainly worked on failed water projects and helped restore municipal water resources. I saw a lot of abandoned infrastructure as well, and became very interested in the transboundary water disputes along Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, with upstream neighbors Syria and Turkey.”

What did you learn about yourself through your deployments?

“I learned that we as a country are blessed with tremendous young people in that my Marines taught me more about myself than I probably taught them. It was great to see us come together as a group when faced with dangerous and tough situations, and as a result I liked serving and leading groups. I actually held an SAT study course for my Marines, including study sessions and quizzes. A lot of them ended up going on to school. That was the fun part, making use of the little time we had. I learned that I like teaching.”

Brooks Deployment

How did you reach the decision to apply to be a Tillman Scholar?

“After my time in the Marines, I applied for a Fulbright grant to go study water disputes in India. I applied to grad school to focus on water and it was while I was at Harvard that I met some Tillman Scholars who shared the background of the program and the tremendous community it is. We actually hosted a Shadow Run for two years while I was in Boston.”

What was your reaction when you received the call that you had been selected as a Tillman Scholar?

“I was overjoyed and so excited to be selected as part of the community. The generosity of the support helped me with grad school, but more than that I was going to be part of a life-long community. The primary focus of education is really powerful for me as well. This is something that supports veterans continuing to better themselves. It’s so important to be held accountable by a group of people.”

What has being a Tillman Scholar allowed you to do that you feel you may have not otherwise received the opportunity to do so?

“As a former officer going to grad school, it exposed me to others attending grad school and being able to have a touch point with the enlisted community that I may not have otherwise had. The best part of serving active duty is interacting with folks of all ranks. Between the Leadership Summit and the Shadow Runs I was able to interact with more enlisted servicemembers, and I’ve had the privilege of developing very powerful and meaningful friendships.”

While at Harvard as an undergrad, you had the privilege to not only receive a great education, but be part of the two-time national champion heavyweight rowing team. What was that experience like for you and how did you get into rowing?

“Our high school had a rowing team so that’s how I got started. I was part of the Junior National Rowing Team in 2001 and competed in Duisburg, Germany as a member of the U.S. team. My dad was also an Olympian rower in 1968 in Mexico City, and my older brother was on the U.S. National Team as well as competing at Harvard before heading to the Olympic trials himself. My sister was a two-time NCAA rowing champion at Brown University. I stopped rowing the beginning of my junior year to focus on ROTC. However, my dad still rows every day and he’s in his late 60’s. He and a friend recently rowed from Boston to Acadia National Park in Maine all under their own power.”

Tell us about what you’re working on now as the Director of Business Development with Nline Energy, a renewable energy development company that developed a process to convert wasted energy found in water transmission and distribution systems into renewable energy?  

“We are the largest micro hydro developer in the state of California where our main focus is on water distribution by developing renewable electricity. My day to day job entails meeting with Public Utility water engineers and helping them understand how to produce electricity from their current water operating systems from the Sierra foothills to Oregon to the US-Mexico Border.”

With the recent drought in California, how involved has your company been in helping rectify the drought?

“The drought is really severe and is bad as it has ever been recorded. Our company has helped our districts make and use their water distribution systems more efficient.”

When you have it, what do you do in your spare time?

“I sit on the board of the Warrior-Scholar Project which is a pre-college boot camp that helps prior enlisted servicemen and women transition to college. This year we are going to be in 10 schools. Folks that are thinking about going to school are encouraged to attend. It takes a lot of humility to sit down next to 18-year-olds. We have touched a few hundred veterans in the four years of our existence, but the impact is deep.”

What are your goals for the future?

“I’m proud of my wife, Lily Stockman, who is a painter and started Block Shop Textiles, a partnership with a cooperative of family printers in India. She writes on the side for a column for vogue.com. The next few years for us is just putting down roots and giving back where we can!”

What was one of the most impactful experiences you’ve had throughout your career?

“I was in India from 2010-11 on a State Department Fullbright grant studying water policy, understanding the role water has in human dignity and human existence. It’s hard to realize that until you see a place where people don’t have access to clean water. My focus was on water resource management and in the process I was able to see the real struggles people have getting access to clean water from the desert villages in Rajasthan to hill stations in Himalayan Foothills. As a result, I would love to find a way to use water technology and water policy as a diplomatic and developmental tool to help the US engage water-scarce, conflict-prone regions around the world beyond merely the obvious security concerns we might have.”Brooks South Asia Fulbright Conference

Tillman Scholar Peter Brooks presents at the South Asia Fulbright Conference