Student Profile: Benek Robertson, Carmel, CA
I stayed because of the people; I was surrounded by brilliant peers and supportive faculty!
By Alex Kekauoha
Stanford student Benek Robertson is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental communication. Before beginning his graduate studies, he found academic support and guidance through the Bill Lane Center for the American West (BLC).
Robertson first became involved with the BLC when he was a Stanford undergrad studying political science. During his sophomore year, he took the BLC’s American West class, which he said helped him see the connection between seemingly disparate academic topics, such as the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.
“I felt supported as I branched out across these disciplines and received lots of great advice from mentors and peers at the Bill Lane Center,” he said.
The following summer he landed a job with the BLC, analyzing polls about issues such as climate change, immigration and tax policies.
“By studying public opinion across the Western United States, I helped to uncover trends among Western voters that impacted elections in 2018 and beyond,” he said. He added that the BLC’s internship opportunities inspired him in his search for work at the intersection of environmental justice, policy and politics.
Robertson later wrote an honors thesis titled “Parks, Petroleum, and Profits: Electoral Change and Preferences for Federal Land Management in the Interior Western United States.” Advised by Professor Bruce Cain, Robertson’s research focused on the role of demographic drivers in the electorate, such as regional migration and generational change.
“By studying polling data, I argued for the continued growth of a Western voting bloc that supports protection and preservation of public lands, as well as the decline of public support for extractive industry in mountain West states,” he said.
Robertson said that working with Professor Cain and BLC researcher Iris Hui validated his curiosity about the role of public lands and the environment in politics, particularly in the Western United States. He also credits their mentorship with helping him identify the next step in his academic trajectory.
“They helped me feel confident in my decision to join the Earth Systems department for my master’s degree,” he said.
Reflecting on his time at Stanford, Robertson said that the BLC became more than just a place to study.
“In our little corner of Y2E2, I found an academic home on campus,” he said. “It was full of diverse, engaging, interdisciplinary topics. I stayed because of the people; I was surrounded by brilliant peers and supportive faculty!”