In 2012, Focus the Nation, a youth organization promoting clean energy awareness and action, sent 20 college students on a weeklong summer retreat to engage their capacities — their imaginations, interest in civic responsibility, and problem-solving skills — in the cause of environmental sustainability.
One of those elite student leaders was Phy Tran (BA ’15).
An outspoken proponent of active citizenship among students, Tran wants her peers at DePaul to “have a voice” in deciding the university’s environmental policies and practices. While still a freshman, Tran founded the DePaul chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, which she describes as a think tank for students wanting to formulate progressive ideas and bring about meaningful change.
“Right now, the mission of our chapter is to facilitate conversations and roundtable discussions among students, faculty, and administrators so that, together, we can make the university’s commitment to sustainability substantial and concrete, primarily on campus but also in the larger community of Chicago," she says.
On April 13, the institute hosted a sustainability conference that attracted more than 50 students from DePaul, Northwestern, Loyola, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Michigan State, and University of Wisconsin. They shared information about on-campus projects, as well as strategies for translating ideas into actions, and toured DePaul's urban and rooftop gardens. During a session with the Academy for Global Citizenship (a Chicago public charter school), the students learned how to integrate ideas about sustainability into a K-12 education.
Before beginning her studies at DePaul, Tran spent a year working with AmeriCorps in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago.
“I quickly came to realize the importance of fresh food,” she recalls. “Growing up in Vietnam until I was 14, I took that for granted. But here, in the United States and especially in the city, what people have available to eat has enormous economic and political implications. This is when my desire to bring about a better, healthier environment for everyone really kicked in. When we talk about 'green policies' we need to consider the intersection of many issues, including income, access to food and healthcare, foreign policies, and business practices.”
Beating more than 40 applicants for her spot on the retreat, Tran was identified as a “politico” (other possible categories were innovator, technician, and storyteller) because of her desire to make renewable energy available in low-income communities. Since 2008, Focus the Nation has enabled more than 300,000 young people talk to business executives and political leaders about energy solutions.
On the retreat, the students hiked Elliot Glacier, which has lost 60 percent of its snowpack since 1982; toured the Boardman Coal Plant, which is scheduled to close by 2020; visited The Dalles Dam, which has been producing hydropower on the Columbia River since 1957; and visited Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, which powers 125,000 homes in Oregon.
Tran says DePaul is the perfect place for her to advocate for better environmental policies and practices. “People here are passionate about sustainability — it’s a core university value — and everyone is open to dialogue and public debate. DePaul students are engaged, and we’re committed to results.”