Brian Poe Llamanzares Earns His Master's From Columbia University, Will Work With NASA

The senator's son talks about building a better response toward natural calamities in the Philippines and an upcoming stint with NASA.

Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares could not help but gush over her son Brian Poe Llamanzares, who recently graduated from Columbia University’s Climate and Society program. The lawmaker, joined by her husband and daughter, flew to New York to attend her eldest child’s graduation.

Like any other modern mom, the senator took to social media to express her joy: “It never gets old. It’s always a sentimental occasion, witnessing each of your milestones. You make us proud. Congratulations, Bri.”

Before jetting off to the U.S. last year, Llamanzares launched timepiece brand Time Master. He also appeared on Town&Country magazine’s 10th-anniversary cover, where he told us that he chose to pursue the program to study climate change and natural calamities in order to help the Philippines come up with preventive measures.

While studying at Columbia, Llamanzares simultaneously completed a program called “Leadership in Crisis” at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and studied Conference Diplomacy and Multilateral Negotiations at the United Nations in Geneva.

T&C caught up with Llamanzares a few days after his graduation:

Can you tell us more about your experience at Columbia?

I know how lucky I am to have had the chance to study at such a prestigious university so I'd like to say I'm both thankful and proud! Thankful for the opportunity and proud of being able to survive the intense Climate and Society program. 

Studying at Columbia University was amazing, but I can also say it was a humbling experience. I was surrounded by the best and the brightest. For example, my professor in Quantitative Models of Climate-Sensitive Natural and Human Systems was the one who designed one of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) models that help scientists at PAGASA and all over the world forecast El Niño. And remember when French President Emmanuel Macron called for the world's leading climate scientists to come to France to help save the world? It was my professor in Dynamics of Climate Variability and Climate Change who got the call! I'm going to miss the engaging and inspiring environment that Columbia University has provided me with. However, I won't miss that nearly as much as the friends that I've made in my master's program.


Over the course of the year, how can you say you've grown?

I'd like to believe I've grown substantially over the past year. I'm by no means a scientist, and yet I took this program in the hope of learning something that may be useful to our kababayans. I studied climate models, learned to gather and interpret satellite data, and I learned to communicate those complex concepts. 

I know the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to climate change and we need all the help we can get. The storms are getting stronger, the droughts are getting longer, and we can't just sit around and wait for the next disaster. We must be proactive. I asked myself how I could get involved in this issue and help out, and this was my answer. I was given the opportunity to study abroad, therefore I believe it is also my responsibility to return home and share whatever wisdom I gained from the program.

Can you share a tidbit from your master’s program that’s really resonated with you?

The whole purpose of the Climate and Society program is to find a way to break the wall that separates complex but meaningful scientific knowledge from the people who need it the most. I remember applying for the program and reading this: "Graduates from the Climate and Society Program work at the nexus of social science, climate science, and public policy."  

This was exactly what the world needed. We need more people who can take science and translate it into a language that decision makers can use to better their societies. During my time there, our professors were constantly reminding us that we were there to bridge the gap. 

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What’s in store for you? Are you returning to the Philippines or starting anything new?

I've got a couple of projects in the pipeline, but I've got one that's literally about to start. I applied to several companies and for several projects, and to my surprise, I got a call back from NASA. No, I won't be going up in a rocket ship, but I'll have the privilege of working with NASA's Disasters Applications team.

Before I come home to the Philippines, I'll be working alongside two people I really respect, NASA's Resilience Coordinator Shanna McClain and one of the lead scientific advisors at the International Red Cross' Climate Centre, Andrew Kruczkiewicz. The work they do in Disaster Risk Management is very inspiring.

Moreover, I'll have the opportunity to work alongside Miriam Nielson, a former CBS News Producer who just so happens to be a classmate as well. 

I should be able to complete the project over the summer and be home just in time for my mom's birthday in September.

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