December 14, 2018
Tammy Nguyen is one powerhouse of a student. Although her initial decision for her degree was to attend the University of Arizona, Nguyen decided to join Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability just in time before her freshman year began. She started out not knowing much about the School of Sustainability, let alone sustainability itself, but Nguyen is now an active student in her field working toward four titles: Bachelor of Arts in sustainability in the “society and sustainability” track, a minor in Spanish language, a minor in women and gender studies, and a certificate in food systems sustainability.
As she explains in her Q&A below, her sustainability journey hasn’t always been easy but she’s learned a lot along the way. Without a doubt, Nguyen is going to continue making strides in sustainability wherever she ends up due to her self-motivation and perseverance.
Read on to see how Nguyen began her path towards empowering youth to change the world.
Question: What made you realized you wanted to study sustainability at ASU?
Answer: Junior year of high school, Brigitte Bavousett came into my yoga class junior year at Desert Vista High School and talked about plastic oceans. However, what intrigued me the most was when she talked about SafeSIPP, an invention created by an ASU School of Sustainability student that helped women across the world have better access to clean, safe water. If one student can make a difference that empowering for others across the world, I was hooked.
During this time in my life, I was figuring out what I wanted to study in college but I had absolutely no interest in anything. Furthermore, I was not a hardcore environmentalist as I am now. Sure I loved animals, loved being outdoors and eating healthy, but never went out of my way to advocate for the environment. After this presentation, I had never heard about sustainability as a degree but it definitely sparked a tiny interest in me. I was given a folder all about the School of Sustainability at ASU and the degrees it offered and when I went home, I put it away in a shelf.
I was under the mentality that I would be following in the footsteps of my sister and attend the Honors College at University of Arizona (who was a freshman there at the time). I knew some of her friends, I had visited the campus enough to know my way around it, and UA was a good enough distance away from home. For the longest time, I was considering going to UA and doing environmental science (not the same thing as sustainability but it was the only option provided on their application) instead of doing sustainability at a school that was closer to my parents and where it seemed everyone from my high school was going. I finally came to my senses and realized that during a time where I had no interest in anything, the small spark of interest I felt after Brigitte’s talk was a sign to attend ASU — especially the School of Sustainability.
Q: What’s been your favorite class so far and why?
A: The first semester of sophomore year, I took SOS 321: Policy and Governance in Sustainable Systems with Professor Milan Shrestha. I was extremely apprehensive to take policy as my first core track course because policy (aside from economics) has been an area where I am the least interested and unable to comprehend anything about it. My doubts were confirmed: the first two months I felt lost and clueless. I have always been confident in sustainability as my major, yet this was the first class to induce my first (of many) existential crises because I just was not getting it.
Furthermore, I used my trip to the United Nations 23rd Conference of Parties and 13th Conference of Youth in Germany as an honors contract for this course which induced my stress levels to extreme heights. I had to use a new presentation platform and this was the first honors contract that I felt I had very high expectations to meet.
However, working closely with Professor Shrestha, my actual experience in Germany, and the end presentation I created validated everything I had worked hard for. As weeks went on, I became more confident writing policy reports and understanding the nexus of policy, economics and the environment. On the last day of class, we had an amazing conversation about the future of our Earth I will never forget, and I left Professor Shrestha’s class feeling like the challenges I faced helped me grow and become more confident as a sustainability student.
A: I always cater my volunteer efforts towards sustainability. I have been lucky to attend Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Lost Lake Festival and Coachella for free by volunteering with Clean Vibes and Global Inheritance, two great organizations that help promote and implement sustainable initiatives at events. From fall 2017 to end of summer 2018, I was a Wild Keeper ambassador and mentor for Keep Nature Wild, a company that uses 10 percent of its proceeds to fund community wilderness cleanups. As a Wild Keeper, I picked up trash collectively with other Wild Keepers, and we would post our impact once a month on a designated Impact Day to raise awareness of littering and normalize the act of picking up trash. As a mentor, I just helped Wild Keepers with any questions they had and reminded them of Impact Days.
I was the first climate ambassador on ASU campus for Care About Climate, an international nonprofit that spreads climate awareness in communities around the world using the Climate Sign, an Online Youth Exchange program and international climate ambassador program. CAC brought me to the United Nations 13th Conference of Youth and 23rd Conference of Parties on Climate Change in November 2017. At COY, I joined 1,300 other participants from 114 different countries to learn about the impact youth are making around the world and how youth can be more involved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process. I will never forget the feeling of being surrounded by other people my age who all had the same passion for the Earth; thus, my passion for global youth involvement in environmental action started.
Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career?
A: I plan on getting a master’s degree in sustainability that will focus on youth involvement in global and local environmental action. How can we mobilize more youth? What are barriers to their involvement? How do we keep them involved? I do not have a specific job title in mind, but I know that a variety of sectors can address these questions such as nonprofits, international bodies or specific youth-led organizations. Jobs are constantly being created and evolved, especially in the field of sustainability which I can’t wait to explore.
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
A: To me, sustainability empowers and allows youth to be agents of change in their community. Future generations are claimed to be of importance in formal sustainability definitions, yet institutions and higher bodies of governance have repeatedly disadvantaged youth, women and other marginalized communities from getting a seat at the table.
Furthermore, sustainability goes beyond intergenerationality to address intersectionality. I recognize that I am a privileged, middle-class girl in America who has had no trouble getting access to education and can afford to be an environmentalist. Sustainability recognizes that the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, ableness and geographic location are what make us — the youth — all have unique knowledge and capabilities to be essential stakeholders in the future of our planet.