Young Alum Continues her Quest for Clean Energy at Duke University
Update November 2018: Claire was named a 2019 Rhodes Scholar. Read our news story.
Update April 2018: Congrats to Claire, who was named a Udall Scholar and a Truman Scholar. The Udall Scholarship awards $7,000 to students for leadership on environmental issues, and the Truman Scholarship awards $30,000 to students for commitment to public service. Also in April, Duke announced they indefinitely delayed plans for the combined heat and power plant that, as explained below, Claire fought against.
Claire is currently in a study-abroad program that will bring her to Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia to learn about climate change and the politics of food, water, and energy. This summer, she'll intern with the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in their electricity practice. She'll graduate from Duke next spring.
Rowland Hall alumna Claire Wang '15 can't recall a time in her life when she wasn't passionate about our Earth and the environment. Researching air quality, clean energy, and other environmental issues for Middle School debate heightened her interest in climate advocacy. Claire went on to be a nationally ranked debater in high school, and her involvement in clean energy and politics at the local level continued to grow.
During her junior year at Rowland Hall, Claire volunteered with Utah Clean Energy—a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public-interest organization that seeks to lead and accelerate the clean-energy transformation with vision and expertise. As a senior, she became even more involved with Utah Clean Energy and acted as a student voice for the organization. Claire co-organized a well-attended press conference, hosted by Rowland Hall, that drew attention to the issue of net metering—a policy that determines how a power company can give compensation to its customers who are producing solar power—and Utah's utility provider, Rocky Mountain Power. Claire earned valuable experience at a young age working with Utah Clean Energy in the realm of policy and legislation.
In the fall of 2015, Claire matriculated at Duke University in North Carolina. She wanted to continue her advocacy for clean energy, so she joined the Sierra Student Coalition, a youth organization of the Sierra Club. She brought the Sierra Student Coalition's national #SeizeTheGrid campaign to Duke, organizing students to call on their administrations to power the campus with 100% renewable energy. After learning about the policy challenges of achieving 100% renewable energy, Claire began a new campaign called RE-Act (Renewable Energy Action) to urge Duke to lobby in support of renewable energy policies in North Carolina. RE-Act's hard work and advocacy paid off this spring when Duke administrators wrote an open letter to North Carolina lawmakers advocating for third-party energy sales, a policy that fosters growth of distributed renewable energy and allows consumers to directly purchase renewable energy currently unavailable or unaffordable due to the utility company's monopoly on electricity sales.
Over the summer, Duke announced plans to build a $55 million natural gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The announcement has raised concerns about emissions and environmental consequences. As president of the Duke Climate Coalition, a student advocacy group, Claire has been dedicating her efforts this year to fighting the plant's construction. She and her core team of about 30 student organizers gathered over 2,000 signatures from Duke students who believe the university has an obligation to the students, the larger community, and the world to be a leader in the transition to clean energy. The building of a new plant powered by burning fossil fuels would be a health threat to students, according to Claire. "We want Duke to be a leader in clean energy and a model for other institutions of higher learning," she said. Students are upset, Claire added, because the administrators making decisions may not necessarily be the ones facing the future consequences of climate change. The Duke Climate Coalition continues to raise awareness and lobby against the building of the plant.
Claire plans to continue in her fight for clean energy throughout her time at Duke and after she graduates. Inspired by an environmental law class during her first semester, Claire is intrigued by environmental policy and regulation, with an eye toward climate change and clean energy. She is majoring in environmental science and policy, and minoring in economics. She said she's fortunate to have attended Rowland Hall—she felt supported here and believes the school encourages its students to make the world a better place. Claire also appreciates Rowland Hall's emphasis on writing, which helped her as a student and organizer. She credits her Middle School and Upper School debate experience for giving her many of the skills she uses in her advocacy work: "Just like debate, running campaigns involves strategy, negotiation, and analysis," she said.
For those wondering what they can do to support clean energy and the environment, Claire has some advice. First, get informed: "Everybody uses energy, but people don't necessarily understand how it works. Clean energy is a complex and multifaceted problem involving policies, economics, and technology." Second, get involved: "Action is needed now more than ever. Change needs to come from the ground up, and local efforts are more important than ever."