By: Justin Lafleur
TJ Bryan is always asking himself why.
Bryan’s inquisitive nature is prevalent on the lacrosse field as a faceoff specialist, in the classroom and in everyday life.
“Facing off is such a niche part of the sport and to get good at it, you have to know why you’re a millisecond slower here or how you can overcome something there,” he said. “It’s such small details, so you’re looking at half a second.
“The way your stance is tweaked by my coaches is like an engineering piece,” Bryan continued. “It’s so technical.”
Bryan is an environmental studies major (with an environmental science track), but two years ago, he took an engineering class where a project was based around creating a prototype. Bryan’s group went on to create GryWtr Technologies, which won the Phillip R. Jackson Award for best overall performance in ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering.
“At the end of the 10-week term, you needed to have a prototype ready to go for a U.S. patent,” he said. “The project was supposed to be about anything that could help people, the environment or communities. Coming with my environmental studies background, I thought about recycling greywater.”
An example of greywater is when you use the sink or shower. An example of black water is when you flush the toilet.
The question Bryan asked was, “How could we use recycled greywater to flush a toilet, so you’re not wasting as much water?”
How did the idea originally come up? It goes back to Bryan constantly asking why.
“I always sit at class wondering why things are a certain way,” he said. “I had other ideas with composting and food waste. But the water is something that really bothers me a lot. All throughout the courses, I had these little things in mind… and then when we needed a product, I thought of the wastewater idea.”
Bryan’s group was sold on the idea.
“There were two other people in the group who were really good at computer science,” he said. “We would draw something up and they would 3D print it.”
As part of the project, Bryan turned the bathroom where he lived into an experiment.
“We took a container of greywater collected underneath the sink and as the toilet flushed, we controlled the flow value,” he said. “It would flip a pump and pump the water up from that storage container underneath the sink into the toilet, so it was flushing with that water each time.”
The process wasn’t all smooth.
“I flooded our basement where I lived,” said Bryan.
In the grand scheme of things, the setbacks were relatively minor. The project wasn’t only completed, but also won the award.
Bryan and his group still have a patent for the product.
“If we wanted to take it forward, we could have,” he said. “But there are a lot of rules and state regulations that come into play.”
The project was one example of Bryan taking advantage of the Dartmouth student-athlete experience. One reason Bryan was originally drawn to Dartmouth was because of its location in the woods of New Hampshire.
“Growing up, I loved spending time outdoors,” he said. “I was big into camping and fishing and was always outside.”
When Bryan arrived on campus, he tried economics, but didn’t like it.
“I found environmental studies where I could do hands-on research projects,” he said. “I was able to conduct field work on a forestry project. I just fell in love with the major. I haven’t taken an environmental studies class I didn’t like.”
Dartmouth ended up fitting Bryan more than he could have imagined.
“The environmental studies major has so many benefits that you couldn’t get at another school,” said Bryan. “We have this entire land grant to conduct studies on, so the department has a lot of resources. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the research I’ve done if I wasn’t up here in Hanover.”
Lacrosse originally drew Bryan to Hanover… and he was hooked.
“I started lacrosse late in eighth grade,” he said. “After a couple years, I realized I had enough skill to play Division I and I did some prospect camps up here. That ruggedness the school preaches without too much of a prep feel, but still having the Ivy League name, really attracted me.
“It attracted me so much that now my little brother’s coming here too.”
Bryan’s career began with the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, which saw the Big Green begin 3-1. The 2021 season was canceled (minus a late-season exhibition against Tufts). Then each of the last two seasons, the Dartmouth program has shown strong progress.
Even though Bryan’s stats may not necessarily show it, he has played an integral role in the Big Green’s rise.
What better example of his impact than being voted a senior captain this season?
“It’s different being in a leadership role on a team when you don’t touch the field because you’re seeing things from a different angle,” he said. “Athlete used to be my whole identity, but as I’ve grown older, it’s different. I’m just trying to be a supportive role model for my teammates who I love so much.
“It’s about the actions and some of the small wisdom I can impart on them,” Bryan continued. “It’s not so much of a yell in your face, tell you how to be a better lacrosse player, but being there as a support system.”
On the field, Bryan has impacted those around him, including fellow senior and faceoff specialist Mitchell Myers, who was a first team All-Ivy League honoree last season and Inside Lacrosse Midseason All-American this year.
“TJ has been an incredible teammate and friend,” said Myers. “Getting to work with someone who does everything in his power to further this team has been an absolute privilege over these past four years. Being a faceoff specialist, our position is one of the most technical and physical on the field. TJ is a workhorse in the weight room and on the field, making him an excellent physical competitor in practice and competitions.”
As Bryan said, he wants to support Myers in any way he can.
“He’s killing it, so that means we’re in the best place possible,” said Bryan. “I want to do whatever I can to help him. He’s such a great player and we’ve been butting heads every day at practice since we stepped foot on campus.”
Practice is where Bryan’s inquisitive nature comes to the surface in an extremely positive way.
“I think TJ’s mindset and intuition are his greatest asset,” said Myers. “Every practice, TJ is constantly asking questions and discussing technical aspects of the faceoffs in an effort to perfect our craft. The same method of inquiry and improvement has been applied as he’s grown into his leadership role as a captain of the team.
“I know our faceoff unit and team would be in a different place without him.”
Since stepping foot on campus, Bryan has grown through a variety of experiences, which have come together to make him who he is today.
“I came in with a pretty level head of being responsible and knowing what to do, but still felt so overwhelmed by everything going on around me,” he said. “Leaving here, I feel like I’m in a good space where I can go into the world, do well for myself and those who I care about… and do it with an attitude of gratitude.
“I’ve learned to really enjoy every day.”
Time is running short for Bryan, who will be one of 10 seniors recognized during the Big Green’s Senior Day on Saturday vs. Brown. Opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m. with the senior ceremony slated for postgame.
It’s a time to reflect on an unconventional, but also highly successful, four years.
“You get to be surrounded by your friends every day in this little bubble that we call Dartmouth, and there’s nothing better than that,” said Bryan. “And even when you’re in the dog days of winter, you still get to wake up and see your friends.
“From where I came from and how I’m a first-generation college student — being at this institution when everyone who came before me didn’t have the chance to — speaks volumes to how grateful and lucky I am to be here.”
Bryan has taken advantage of every day at Dartmouth.
“I’m also involved in the live music scene on campus,” he said. “Last year, I was a part of a student band which I love to do — so fun — and it was with Class of 2022 guys. A couple of them were lacrosse players.
“They all graduated, so I haven’t gotten to play much this term or last term, but we’re working right now on getting another band back together to play a few more shows before I graduate in June.”
Once Bryan graduates, he’ll be heading to Washington, D.C. to work for consulting company Deloitte under its government public services sector.
“I can’t wait to see what TJ is going to do moving forward,” said Myers. “I can guarantee he’s going to be a highly-valued consultant at Deloitte. The skills he has naturally been endowed, as well as those he’s learned being a member of this program, are going to take him so far.”
In the end, Dartmouth has been a perfect match for Bryan.
“I’ve played lacrosse, researched at the highest level, gotten to play in a band,” he said. “I was on the power lifting club and mountaineering club because I love to rock climb. You get to be part of so many team environments, become such a well-rounded individual and you don’t have to just stick yourself into one identity.”
Big Green head coach Brendan Callahan doesn’t know how Bryan finds the time to be successful at so much.
“Especially at the Ivy League level, you talk about student-athletes and being able to do both at the highest levels academically and athletically, TJ certainly embodies that,” said Callahan. “What I see every day is his level of focus, attention to detail and the hours and hours he puts into his training and into the game of lacrosse. Then, to see him turn around and tackle that in the classroom too has been unbelievable.
“TJ certainly makes it happen and it’s very impressive what he’s able to handle.”
Bryan is much more than just a lacrosse player. And he’s much more than just a student.
Every part of TJ Bryan’s identity is in some way related to his inquisitive nature and constantly asking himself one thing.