GW student blends passion for technology, sustainability and enterprise.
Editor's note (10/28/2015): The original article referred to Mr. Bremen as a 2015 graduate of GW enrolled in a graduate program. The current version reflects that he is in a five-year dual degree program through the School of Business. We regret the error.
By James Irwin
Eric Bremen knew he belonged in Washington, D.C., the first time he visited. The son of Iranian immigrants from Ladera Ranch, Calif., Mr. Bremen came to the city as a wide-eyed 11-year-old and fell in love with it.
“I remember how everyone was so intellectual, and the city was so lively,” he said. “As soon as I came here, I was able to see what American principles were all about and that kind of motivated me a little bit to settle here.”
Twelve years and a White House internship later, Mr. Bremen, now a dual degree student in the School of Business and the beneficiary of a university scholarship, is part of the lively intellectual culture he once observed. He has spent the past two years in Washington pursuing a career path that blends his passion for technology, sustainability and business, creating a precise field of study that has enabled him to thrive.
The human-nature relationship
Mr. Bremen is enrolled in a dual degree program through the School of Business. He will graduate from GW with B.B.A. and M.S. degrees in information systems technology and a minor in sustainability. He aspires to design smart grid systems—the kind used in public utilities—that allow for a more efficient use of renewable resources, overcoming variability in power generation and supply and demand challenges.
Spend a few minutes with him and you notice the qualities of an emerging social entrepreneur—the quiet, dogged work ethic necessary to solve problems, the pluck to create a new path instead of following one paved by someone else. Mr. Bremen is polite—almost shy—but opens up when the topic turns to one of his many passions. He complements these qualities with self-deprecating humor.
“I was that weird kid who would throw climate change events in middle school,” he said, laughing at himself. “I also would sit down and tinker with different systems and inventions that could ultimately really improve the environment. I’ve always been interested in the human-nature relationship.”
As he grew up, he said he realized the best way to improve the world through sustainable technology would be through business. His belief, that economic and social progress comes through cooperation between business and government, drove him to tailor his academic studies to cover entrepreneurship, sustainability, technology, regulation and policy.
“Luckily, GW gave me the opportunity to combine those fields,” he said.
A White House internship
That academic flexibility was the reason Mr. Bremen chose to transfer to the George Washington University from Saddleback College in Orange County, Calif., and led him to the F. David Fowler Career Center, where he learned about a federal financial management internship at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The White House experience, Mr. Bremen said, opened him to the government’s role in enterprise and how it extends beyond regulatory policies. It dovetailed with his coursework, specifically in classes taught by Jorge Rivera, a professor of strategic management and public policy.
“He was really good at breaking down the concepts of how government, society and business interact and how businesses can think more strategically in terms of organizing themselves,” Mr. Bremen said. “He’s given me a greater understanding of how businesses can be more environmentally conscious while also remaining profitable in the long term.”
Dr. Rivera’s courses—on government and business, and strategic and environmental management—helped Mr. Bremen further explore business-government partnerships, and apply those tactics to the growing market of renewable energy and technology. The most successful market economies, Dr. Rivera explained, involve the business sector and government working together. An easy example for anyone at GW to recognize: Whole Foods Market.
“They basically created a new industry—their niche was organics,” Dr. Rivera said. “It was partially out of demand, but for the demand to actually turn into a business idea you had to have the certification—the organic standard that allows people to trust that when they pay double for an orange because it’s organic, it’s actually organic.
“A typical supermarket would say they don’t want standards and want to sell whatever they want. Whole Foods realized they needed the regulation.”
Mr. Bremen had long believed in this cooperative approach. That’s rare, Dr. Rivera said. The relationship between business and government has long been perceived as contentious, creating a division that spills into academia: Business school students often argue in favor of what is best for enterprise, policy school students focus on government. Mr. Bremen advocated for both.
“That got my attention early on,” Dr. Rivera said.
The Cohen scholarship
Caroline Battista, Mr. Bremen’s undergraduate academic adviser, helped him piece together his academic curriculum. She also recommended he apply for the Gene R. Cohen Entrepreneurial Scholarship last December. Established in 1998, it provides support for students interested in entrepreneurship.
“His drive and passion for learning more about business, sustainability, information systems, and entrepreneurship in his classes shined through in our advising appointments,” Ms. Battista said. “He embodies the qualities that a candidate for that scholarship should have.”
The financial support has helped Mr. Bremen cover expenses and set aside funds to start working on his patent ideas.
“I feel like if somebody is willing to donate their money and time, it means that person is trying to inspire me to do great things,” he said. “Mr. Cohen has not only given me a sense of confidence, but the scholarship has really motivated me to do more and return the generosity.”
Mr. Bremen’s passions are evolving into a larger philosophy. He plans to enroll in a Master of Business Administration program—one with entrepreneurial emphasis—after he finishes his master’s degree. He’s currently working on developing radio-frequency identification for smartphones, which, among other things, could one day mean paying for groceries won’t involve the checkout counter. It’s another example of change in the consumer-business relationship, he said.
“It’s about wanting to create a sense of value for society, both economically and socially,” he said of his career pursuits. “In entrepreneurship, you can create the experience for the world. It allows you to redefine the limits for yourself by creating a new opportunity for society to expand and develop.”
Providing more students with access to college—and to enhanced academics and career opportunities once they get there—is a central tenet of Making History: The Campaign for GW, a $1 billion philanthropic effort that will bring the university into its third century. Today, nearly two-thirds of all undergraduate students receive need- or merit-based financial assistance.