English grad is writing for clean water

Brinton Carlson poses in front of a tree.

Graduating ASU English major Brinton Carlson is heading to the University of Idaho College of Law, with the goal of becoming an environmental lawyer.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Arizona State University student Brinton Carlson is putting his pen where his heart is.

Having grown up in beautiful Pocatello, Idaho, Carlson may have taken having clean water for granted. But he completed a church mission in the Philippines, where he experienced firsthand the effects of pollution on human health; he was hospitalized there due to water-contamination poisoning. He has since turned his focus to sustainability, especially to water access and quality.

“I have thought about these people in the Philippines especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “How are they washing their hands? How can they socially distance if they are using community bathrooms and water pumps? These are real issues that affect millions of people throughout the world.”

At ASU, Carlson deepened his environmental knowledge with coursework and an editorial internship at Green Living Magazine. According to the Department of English’s director of internships, Ruby Macksoud, Carlson is “a great writer,” and he made good use of that skill in a very specific way. Carlson said he was thrilled to be able to work directly with advisers from Water.org, an organization co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, to write an article about water quality in the Philippines for World Water Day. The experience further confirmed his interest in the area.

Carlson is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in English (writing, rhetorics and literacies) and will begin working toward his law degree at the University of Idaho this fall.

“I would love to become an environmental lawyer someday,” said Carlson. “[Environmental lawyers] work closely with the EPA and make sure that their clients (individual, small business or corporation) are compliant regarding clean energy laws, regulations for water quality and other sustainability-type laws.”

We caught up with Carlson to find out more about how his time at ASU prepared him for his next steps, and where on campus is the best place to catch a spectacular desert sunset.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: Growing up, I particularly enjoyed English classes in school, and I enjoyed pushing myself academically in AP English courses. There were a few AP writing courses in high school specifically that really sparked my interest in the subject, and I knew early on that I wanted to study writing and rhetoric when I went to college. I have always wanted to be a lawyer. That was my dream growing up. I knew that if I majored in English, which places a large emphasis on reading, writing and critical thinking, that I would be better prepared to take the LSAT one day and to attend law school. Now after taking the LSAT, I can say that studying English with an emphasis in writing was a great choice and that my major helped prepare me to take that test. You don’t need any specific major to apply to law school, but from personal experience, I would recommend English with writing emphasis as a good option if someone is considering applying to law school.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I have been very impressed with ASU’s focus and emphasis on sustainability. One particular course that I enjoyed in college was ENG 371 Environmental Rhetoric and Sustainability: Constructing the Future, taught by [Associate Professor] Peter Goggin. This course both surprised me and changed my perspective about the importance of living sustainably in the world and also the importance of engaging in environmental rhetoric in the public sphere. ENG 371 opened my eyes to a new perspective of sustainability and its prevalence in an increasingly innovative world. We are constantly learning of more efficient ways to reduce our carbon footprint and yet still [be able to] power the many machines and vehicles that are required to keep our economy functioning. As an English major, I never thought I would study sustainability and the environment, but this course was influential for me.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I knew that Arizona State University was a fantastic school, and I chose this university for its great reputation and location. Both of my grandparents graduated from Arizona State, and I was excited to continue that legacy and tradition. My education at ASU has prepared me for law school and it now serves as a solid foundation for my future career to build upon. I am proud to call Arizona State University my alma mater.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: One particular professor who has been very influential to me was [Professor of English] Elenore Long. I first took ENG 205 with her, which is an introduction to writing, rhetoric and literacies. Her comments and feedback from assignments helped facilitate a positive, uplifting learning environment. Even if I didn’t achieve the best grade I had hoped for on a specific paper or assignment, Dr. Long would always offer helpful and constructive feedback. I was always impressed with how thorough her feedback responses were.

I later also took ENG 390 with Dr. Long, which was a course focused on methods of inquiry. Both of these courses helped me better understand how we make meaning of the world around us. We discussed real-world problems that are prevalent today, and we learned from various methods how we can approach those problems and pose potential solutions. Dr. Long taught many important lessons in both of those courses. I will take the opportunity here to say that Dr. Long was probably the best English professor/teacher I have ever had from kindergarten to my senior year of undergrad. She’s kind, very knowledgeable, yet humble, and you can really tell that she really cares about her students. She is invested in their success.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything difficult, and that includes attending school! It would be naïve of me not to address this with this type of question. The best advice I could give to current students is to be flexible and patient during this difficult time. Maintain a long-term perspective regarding your education and remember that these few years in undergrad will fly by. You’ll reflect on these memories later when you start your career, so don’t forget to live the memories now! Follow COVID-19 guidelines and ASU policies, but try to still enjoy and cherish these “mid-pandemic” semesters, even though times are difficult right now.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I enjoyed studying at the Del E. Webb School of Construction building. I know it’s a random place, as it had nothing to do with my major, but I enjoyed doing homework while being able to look out the windows and see a great view of the Tempe campus. It was especially beautiful to watch the sunset in the evening. There’s also a great outdoor area with tables on the third floor where you can eat lunch and watch planes coming in to land at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have been accepted to the University of Idaho College of Law! I will begin attending this coming fall at the Boise, Idaho, campus. After being accepted to multiple law schools, my wife and I felt that the University of Idaho would be the best fit for my academic goals and that Boise would be a great place to continue raising our family. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to attend U of I and to start this new chapter in our life. My family knows many alumni from the University of Idaho law school, and it is an honor to soon become a part of that academic community.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I have been deeply inspired by Matt Damon and Gary White’s mission at Water.org to improve water quality and equity throughout the world. If I had $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, it would be to assist the team at Water.org and other organizations like it to help improve water quality and equity in affected countries like the Philippines. Everyone deserves clean water. It’s a necessity for life, and it should be a fundamental priority for all people to have proper access to it.

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