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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.


Claire Wang holding climate action now sign

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."

Alumni

Alumna Claire Wang Looking for a Clean Fight

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.


Claire Wang holding climate action now sign

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."

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At the Intersection of Homelessness, Healthcare, and Humanity

Rowland Hall alumnus Jeff Norris lives his purpose treating and advocating for underserved populations as the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego When Jeff Norris ’03 applied to medical school, the admissions office at the University of Utah called him in for a rare second interview. He had submitted a personal statement focused on the connection between medicine, public health, and social justice, and that intersectional approach raised some eyebrows.
 
Admissions officers asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to go to medical school, and not study public health or social work. But he assured them: he knew he wanted to be a clinician who worked with, and advocated for, underserved populations.

Jeff credits Rowland Hall with launching his career trajectory. In high school, under the mentorship of then-faculty member Liz Paige, he volunteered with Amnesty International and prepared and served food at local youth groups. The positive experience of serving others and making an impact—and relevant content in history and psychology courses—got the wheels turning in Jeff’s brain: “I started reflecting on my role in the world and how I could try to do something to make a difference for others. What is my purpose for being here?”

Jeff's self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success.

The service and activism Jeff began at Rowland Hall carried through his years as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a med student at the University of Utah, and as a Family Medicine resident at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success: in 2016, Jeff became the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages, an award-winning nonprofit that provides integrated services to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego.
 
Jeff’s day-to-day work requires a breadth of skill, knowledge, and tenacity: he estimates he spends about 40 percent of his time treating patients and the other 60 percent engaged in clinic administration, fundraising, and advocacy—including ensuring that state and federal legislation supports nonprofits like his. He serves on a number of boards, including a large network of clinics with over 100,000 patients in the San Diego area. For Jeff, it’s about more than staying connected and representing the interests of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is being present in the community to advocate for the needs of not just those experiencing homelessness, but underserved populations more broadly.”


At the clinic he leads—which serves walk-ins along with residents of Father Joe’s Villages and people receiving assistance from other local agencies—Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health. “The challenges our patients face are pretty unique, compared to most patient populations,” he said. “Their lives are very chaotic, and they have a lot going on medically, psychiatrically, behaviorally, socially…in all senses.” A significant portion of his time is spent managing programs to deliver medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD)—drugs such as buprenorphine (suboxone) or naltrexone—and for alcohol abuse. 

At the clinic he leads, Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health.

Among the most recent and cutting-edge programs Jeff and his team at Father Joe’s Villages are running is the Street Health Program, which launched this spring and is already impacting lives for the better. As the name suggests, the initiative involves going out into the streets and providing healthcare directly to people experiencing homelessness. So far, they’ve reached a number of people who’ve avoided or been underserved by traditional healthcare. One example: a man who had been using heroin for 30 years and had never before been interested in treatment. Pending a grant, the street health team hopes to treat patients with OUD at the first point of contact. In the meantime, they wrote a prescription for this particular patient because, as Jeff said, “it was the right thing to do.”
 
One of the long-term goals of the Street Health Program is to develop rapport with individuals so that they will visit the clinic for treatment. Additionally, the launch has created quite a buzz throughout San Diego, so Jeff hopes other clinics and treatment centers will consider similar programs (which do already exist in other large metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco). “It can’t just be us,” he said. “There are enough folks experiencing homelessness that we certainly cannot meet the need unilaterally.”
 
Jeff is rightly proud of his advocacy work and the impact his clinic makes on a daily basis, and he speaks passionately of the need for everyone to recognize the homelessness crisis—not just in San Diego, but also in Salt Lake City and urban areas throughout the country. While rising housing costs and relatively stagnant wages are the two primary drivers of the problem, Jeff doesn’t discount the power of the individual to make a difference, whether through volunteering, donating goods, or elevating the dialogue to fight the stigma against those experiencing homelessness.
 
When he’s not working, Jeff stays active outdoors, taking advantage of all that San Diego’s famously temperate climate has to offer. He also prioritizes time with his family: two-year-old daughter Alex keeps Jeff and wife Sonia Ponce—a practicing cardiologist—quite busy.
 
Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund is not at all surprised that Jeff is making a difference in the lives of others. He recalled how, as a high school student, Jeff was always highly engaged and motivated to serve, often being the last to leave a volunteer event. “Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion,” Ryan said. “It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare.”
Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion. It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare. —Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

Just as Jeff credited Rowland Hall for sparking his interest in a life of service to others, Mr. Hoglund credits Jeff for setting an example of genuine student leadership at the school. And, to the student leaders today, Jeff sends these words of encouragement: “Figure out what gives you energy and makes you feel like you're contributing to the world in some positive way, then grab that bull by the horns and don’t let go of it. That’s where you're going to be able to make a difference, to be satisfied with who you are and what you're doing in this world.”

 

All photos courtesy of Father Joe's Villages.

 

Alumni

Portrait of a Gap Year: Work, Activism, Writing, Self-Care, and Self-Discovery

Editor’s note: Gap years have long been common in Europe, and they’re on the rise in the US. So what happens when a high-achieving Rowland Hall alum takes a break from the classroom? Read on for our 2018 co-valedictorian’s account.

By Allie Zehner ’18

Ever since middle school, I had my life all planned out: graduate from high school, launch straight into college, graduate from college, and immediately enter grad school or a career. Straying from this pin-straight path didn’t seem like an option; however, here I am, writing this piece at the end of my gap year.

At the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging.

Looking back, I don’t remember the exact moment I said, “Hey, mom and dad, I’m taking a year between high school and college.” Because this option did not pop up on my radar until eleventh grade, the only way to describe my decision is as the perfect collision of four distinct circumstances. First: at the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging. Second: in the fall of my senior year, my family hosted two young women, Priya and Winona, who were in the middle of taking gap years to travel the country, interview people about their intersectional identities, and write a book on racial literacy. Third: I met Abby Falik, the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, an organization dedicated to making bridge years between high school and university a socially acceptable norm. Fourth: after continuously pushing myself throughout high school and becoming co-valedictorian, I was afraid of burning out. 

So, I committed to Barnard College of Columbia University in New York last spring and asked for a deferral of admission, elucidating my gap year plans. Barnard approved my request, I filled out a one-page form, and just like that, I was taking a gap year. 

And so the year began.

In the summer, I worked part-time jobs and saved some money.

In the fall, I worked with Sonita Alizadeh (pictured top, right, being interviewed by Allie at a Surefire conference), a young activist who uses music as a tool to catalyze social change, particularly looking to end the detrimental traditional practice of child marriage. Through my work with her and a nonprofit, Strongheart Group, I conducted research, interviewed young activists from around the world, and traveled to the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit in New York City. 

In the winter, I started focusing on curating a book about the next generation of young women. Formatted as a collection of essays, I will write about half of the chapters and other teen girls will write the rest. From omnipresent social media to an extremely divided political climate to gun violence, this book will speak to the most pressing, serious issues my generation is facing on our journey to adulthood. Learning through doing, I taught myself how to write a book proposal, draft a query letter, reach out to agents, and build a website. 

In the spring, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Colombia, where I used my Spanish (gracias, Señor Burnett), attended a women’s conference, and shadowed an incredible nonprofit, Juanfe, that works with teen moms in Cartagena. And, coincidentally, I met another teen who is taking a gap year to live in South American cities, work, become fluent in Spanish, and volunteer. I have also spent the spring loving (pretty much) every second of learning how to write a book. 

The other key aspect of this year is that, having struggled with a chronic illness since the seventh grade, I made time to see doctors and get necessary testing. While I still do not know the root cause of my health issues, I am better equipped to manage my symptoms and look after my own well being: two things I did not prioritize in middle and high school.

And that is my gap year in a nutshell. 

Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

Let me just say that taking this year and venturing from the extremely narrow life path I had envisioned has been one of my best decisions. From around the time I could walk, I was in school five days a week, seven hours a day. For 15 years, being a student was absolutely core to my identity. Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

I will be attending university this fall. Contrary to what is sometimes believed about gap years, I will be going back to school with an immensely stronger sense of self, more direction, and a readiness to return to the classroom. I could not be more ecstatic to finish my book throughout freshman year and continue to grow as a person.

Gap years are not for everyone, but they should be considered a viable alternative to going straight to college. My hope is that society recognizes the immense possibilities bridge years can hold.

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Claire Wang at Rowland Hall graduation in 2015.

Rowland Hall alumna and Duke University senior Claire Wang '15 has added a prestigious new title to her already impressive list of achievements: Rhodes Scholar.

Claire Wang holding climate action now sign

The Rhodes Trust on November 17 announced the names of the 32 Americans to win the 2019 scholarship, one of the most famous academic awards available to US college graduates.

Claire emailed some of her former Rowland Hall teachers Sunday, overjoyed to share the news. "I'll be Oxford bound next fall," she wrote. "Thank you all so much for your support over the years."

Claire is the sole Utahn among the 2019 scholars, and one of 21 women—a record for an American Rhodes class. Here's her profile as published by the trust:

"Claire R. Wang, North Salt Lake, is a Duke senior majoring in Environmental Science and Policy. She is a Truman Scholar and a Udall Scholar, and has a perfect GPA. She is President of the Duke Climate Coalition, was appointed by Duke's president to advise on campus sustainability and climate policy, and has led numerous environmental policy campaigns. Claire also has worked at the Rocky Mountain Institute, and for Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. She aspires to a career as a climate-change policy advocate and to work at a global level to develop clean energy alternatives to replace fossil fuels. Claire will do master's degrees at Oxford in Environmental Change and Management, and Global Governance and Diplomacy."

At Rowland Hall, Claire felt supported and encouraged on her quest to make the world a better place.

Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest and best-known award for international study, provide all expenses for up to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Scholars must display academic excellence, good character, leadership skills, and commitment to service.

Claire has previously said she's fortunate to have attended Rowland Hall, where she felt supported and encouraged on her quest to make the world a better place. The valedictorian for the class of 2015 also said she appreciated her alma mater's emphasis on writing, which helped her as a student and an organizer. She credited her middle 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. Read our November 2016 Fine Print story about Claire.

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Alumni

Ikwo Frank and peers on National Academy of Medicine stairs

Ikwo Frank '13 and her peers from American University recently took the stage at the National Academy of Medicine to pitch their solution to the sixth-annual DC Public Health Case Challenge. The competition engages teams of students from DC-area universities in an intensive two-week process of researching solutions to a significant public health issue, culminating in the presentation of a proposal to a panel of expert judges at the Academy's annual meeting. This year's challenge was "Reducing Disparities in Cancer and Chronic Disease: Preventing Tobacco Use in African American Adolescents."

Ikwo, who is about six months away from completing her master's degree in health promotion management, joined American's team at the invitation of another program student—she thought it would be a good academic challenge. Plus it's a subject she and her team members are passionate about, which served them well during the strenuous research phase and at the panel presentation on October 14.
 

Left: Ikwo with fellow American University students Liz Fam and Elizabeth Taormina. Right: Ikwo on stage.

Her cohort spent hours working individually and as a team, sharing ideas for the best and most practical ways they could tackle the case. Ikwo, who has been living in Washington DC for almost a year and a half, found herself focusing on what students do after school. "It's a big city," she said. "Where do all these kids go?" Her team devised an idea for an after-school program built around mental health and wellness—the program would help kids become more mindful, teach healthy strategies for coping with stress, and provide a safe space when school lets out.

Ikwo's team devised an idea for an after-school program built around mental health and wellness—the program would help kids become more mindful, teach healthy strategies for coping with stress, and provide a safe space when school lets out.

Even though her team didn't win the competition, Ikwo regards the experience as extremely worthwhile. The conviction they brought to their presentation earned positive reviews from the panel, and the collaborative energy of participants was inspiring. Furthermore, all teams' proposals will be summarized in an upcoming National Academy of Medicine publication.

And there's one more benefit not to be overlooked: the competition requires students to apply a narrow lens—and look for feasible solutions—in a field where the scope and volume of problems often seem daunting. "The health world is so broad, and there's so much work to be done," Ikwo said. "I wish we could save the world, but we have to be realistic. One small thing really does go a long way."

Ikwo is already applying her studies to the greater community. When not in school, she works at the World Bank as a fitness specialist and instructor. Prior to attending American, she earned her bachelor of science from Weber State University in human performance management (the program has since been renamed).

 

Banner photo: 2018 DC Public Health Case Challenge Participants. Photo credit: National Academy of Medicine.

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