Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kid! Interview with Kenneth Xu

By Victoria Feng, Assistant Editor and AKOM Editor

 

Kenneth Xu is the founder of the Student Environmental Education Coalition, an organization that promotes kids to become more active in helping the environment.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to start the Student Environmental Education Coalition?

Kenneth Xu (KX): Growing up in the quiet suburbs of North Carolina, I never really thought environmental degradation was a significant problem because I didn’t notice it in my everyday life. It wasn’t until I visited relatives in urban centers like Beijing—where you often can’t see 50 feet in front of you due to smog—that I came to understand just how critical environmental protection is to society since it’s pretty hard to ignore pollution when it’s literally in your face. I soon became a vocal advocate for sustainability and began sharing my newfound passion for environmental science. I founded the Student Environmental Education Coalition (SEEC), a youth-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to promote environmental literacy after I learned how “environmentally illiterate” much of the American population is.

AK: How does your organization protect the environment?

KX: Through environmental education programs serving K-12 students, like summer camps, campaigns, seminars, and service learning projects, SEEC aims to spark environmental action by educating youth and empowering future leaders. Though we do fund an Environmental Action Commission, which hosts river cleanups and the like, most of our work is focused on youth education. One popular program that I’m currently working on is the fifth annual NatureWay Summer Camp, a free environmental science camp for local elementary school children. People can find out more about SEEC by following our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ncseec/

AK: Why is it important to educate the next generation of environmental leaders?

KX: I believe that green education is imperative because effective environmental action probably won’t occur until citizens are properly educated on ecological issues, and that education has to start early, before young people align with political stances that conflict with established science. My biggest pet peeve is when influential non-scientists, namely politicians, attack environmental science without understanding how the science actually works, which only increases public confusion about the world’s most pressing problems.

AK: Can you describe your recent environmental efforts in China?

KX: I’ve been visiting public schools in Eastern China and introducing elementary/middle school students to environmental science as well as talking about why I personally care about sustainability. Through lectures and Q&As conducted in Mandarin, I’ve been able to simultaneously promote environmental literacy and cultural understanding, plus practice my Chinese! The schools that I visited were amazingly receptive, with many students staying behind to talk to me about my life in America.

My delegation to China was inspired by SEEC’s guest speaker series that I launched last year, which invited environmental leaders like Stuart Pimm and Teryn Norris to give talks at my high school, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. I chose to visit China because its unprecedented economic growth presents serious problems for the environment, making green education crucial for China’s sustainability efforts, and because my trip was funded by the schools that I visited.

AK: What was the most challenging part of organizing the Student Environmental Education Coalition?

KX: SEEC has flourished in urban areas, but we’ve been struggling to bring SEEC’s programs to more rural locations—where political resistance can make it tough for us to find young leaders to continue our projects. However, it’s vital for these rural areas to have access to nonpartisan environmental education, so we’re still working very hard on expanding!

AK: What are your goals for the future, both professionally and personally?

KX: After I graduate from Yale University with a prospective double major in Environmental Studies and Economics, I’d like to find a job in the public or private sector that allows me to advocate for sustainability every day. Maybe I’m just young and idealistic, but I genuinely believe that economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive, so I think that developing financing approaches to ensure resource stewardship is how I could personally have the greatest impact. Outside of work, I hope to visit every continent and finally own a dog.

AK: When not working on your project, do you have any hobbies/interests you enjoy doing?

KX: I’m a huge musicophile; I love playing classical and jazz piano, going to music concerts, collecting vinyl records, and discovering new indie music. I played soprano/bass clarinet in high school as well, back when I was lucky enough to serve as section leader in All-State and All-National Concert Bands. I also enjoy trail running, watching sunsets and sunrises, napping in college libraries, exploring new foods with friends, and following national politics.

AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

KX: A few years ago, I had absolutely no idea that I would be leading an environmental nonprofit organization today, and today I have no idea what I’ll be doing in a few years. You don’t have to know where your future lies in order to make a difference; all it takes is a genuine desire to ignite change. If you truly put your heart into something, soon enough you’ll be achieving dreams that you never even knew you had.

AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?

KX: It seems premature to say this to younger kids, but I’d say that my key to success was being an active community member and networker. I’ve won thousands of dollars in scholarships/awards due to my community involvement, and I’ve thrived in high school due to my many mentors (my piano teacher, my biology teacher, etc.), so I encourage everyone reading this to actively reach out to people no matter their age.

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