PARSIPPANY — Traveling often leads to discoveries about other cultures and places that make us wonder how we can improve things at home. Though it is easy to pack a souvenir and bring it back with you, not everything can fit in a 23 kg check-in bag.
That’s what Daniel Wang, a Parsippany High School alum and rising junior at Brown University, realized while returning home from his summer abroad in Berlin as a participant of the prestigious Cultural Vistas Fellowship, a fully funded internship program designed for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in international exchange.
As a mechanical engineering student interested in environmental sustainability, Daniel’s eight weeks in Germany were an eye opener for him. The country’s devotion to sustainability was both surprising and inspiring at the same time.
Finding a Souvenir to Bring Back Home
The experience left Daniel questioning why the U.S. can’t be equally devoted to sustainability, and he began comparing the two countries’ approaches to the problem for insights about what the U.S. could do differently.
One thing he noticed is how much the role of youth involvement could be improved in the U.S. “I look at sustainability as a tool that helps share a possible future and believe that the youth can use education and awareness to play a crucial role in making America more sustainable.”
This belief has a lot to do with his experience interning at the Fields Institute, where Daniel worked on a sustainability education project. His role involved communicating and teaching children about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and developing communications and advocacy material to connect with businesses. These efforts aimed to educate organizations and municipalities about how their locations can be used as sites and field trip locations to create awareness about SDGs.
Daniel also developed learning materials for children to prepare them for these trips and reinforce the lessons later. These experiences strengthened his belief in the benefits of making young people and children more aware, as well as how their efforts can make a difference.
Packing the Message of Sustainability
Being accepted into the Cultural Vistas Fellowship came at a time when Daniel needed it the most. “Before going to Berlin for the internship, I had a blossoming interest in environmental sustainability and was becoming skeptical about pursuing a career purely in engineering. Through the internship at Fields, I learned how to see sustainability from a more human perspective—not just environmental sustainability, but all other things that have something to do with the conditions of life for people.”
This experience also made Daniel realize how important it is to perfect the way we present various ideas to people. While he recalls being taught that turning off the tap while brushing your teeth can help save up to 200 gallons of water per month, he believes that other similar messages should be equally widespread.
“There are narratives that aren’t being told but are equally important. Like, avoiding eating a quarter pounder can help save a month’s worth shower water supply or that every almond sourced from California consumes a gallon of water.”
Daniel believes these are important messages, often distorted or hidden, and must be communicated to make the world a more sustainable place.
While developing an understanding of various aspects of sustainability, Daniel also got an insight into how humans communicate about these issues and what causes them to act. “The internship helped me see sustainability from a human aspect. I saw how everyone can contribute to it, including professionals and conservationists who work on it every day—and children and young people who may be unaware that their efforts matter.”
Having seen the technical and the human approach, he sees great value in combining them. This idea has refueled his passion for engineering and given him a new purpose.
Daniel is now back at Brown continuing to pursue his engineering program while trying to tailor it to focus on sustainability. Though he believes being more educated can help people make the world more sustainable, he also hopes to continue acquiring tangible experiences that remind us to take action.