At any given time, Robyn Bryan ’11 could receive a notification that completely alters the course of her day, week, month, even year. In 2015, Robyn was fresh on her new internship working for U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee when she felt that soft buzz in her pocket. Then-president Barack Obama had declared a state of emergency in the city of Flint, part of Michigan’s 5th District and represented by Congressman Kildee.
With the director of communications out on vacation, Robyn was the default point person for media juggernauts The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and the like, all looking for information about a public health crisis that left thousands of children and adults poisoned by corroded lead pipes. The entire nation was now focused on Flint, and Rep. Kildee was thrust into the limelight as a result.
Robyn and the rest of Rep. Kildee’s communications team stepped up as a result too. After four months as an intern, Robyn moved to Communications Assistant to Press Secretary while navigating the fallout from the Flint Water Crisis. A graduate of the University of Michigan, the San Diego native earned her cred as a Michigander working on Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence’s campaign before working with Rep. Kildee. A student of communications and political science, Robyn was fascinated by the political process and knew she would work in some capacity in the political field.
Her appreciation for politics grew from Rai Wilson’s AP government class at Parker’s Upper School. Rai, she says, taught his students to understand and value the importance of government as a means of shaping the way our society looks. “It just made sense to work in this field.”
Now, five years after the ongoing Flint Water Crisis was brought to light, Robyn is working on the Hill as Rep. Kildee’s director of communications. Her 15-hour-plus days begin at 5 am, prepping the Congressman for his morning media spot, followed by a “normal” 8-hour work day, before preparations for the evening news show at 6 pm. Robyn says it would be a 24-hour job if she wasn’t deliberate about going offline.
As director of communications, Robyn is the sole writer of Rep. Kildee’s speeches and statements and works directly with reporters to help them understand what their office is working on, such as the bills he sponsors and committees he sits on.
Robyn’s job fluctuates daily with the news cycle, and her volume of work increased when Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in 2018 and Rep. Kildee was appointed to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, one of the oldest and most prestigious Congressional Committees. But one of the most significant changes came when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 and the speed of the news cycle accelerated.
“It changed how we do our jobs,” she says. “The volume of mail alone tripled after the election because more people were paying attention.”
With more eyes on the Executive Branch, more people were watching how decisions at the top affected their lives at home. Working on the Hill can sometimes feel like working in a vacuum, and it’s important for Robyn and the Congressman’s office to stay focused on the people they represent back in Michigan.
“We have to do what people really care about. We have people who care about whether they will have healthcare or not, or whether their kids are going to good schools,” says Robyn.
Her work of informing the 5th District of Michigan is “the highest stake” because it involves telling people whether or not it’s safe to drink their water. She’s working to get funding to replace lead pipes in people’s homes, funding to support healthcare for children suffering from lead poisoning, and funding to expand SNAP (food stamp) money to help families afford fresh fruits and vegetables which help clear lead from the body.
She has had to earn the trust of the people of Flint in order to do this work and to do it well.
“It’s a privilege to be in this position,” says Robyn.
“We have to do what people really care about. We have people who care about whether they will have healthcare or not, or whether their kids are going to good schools.”