Yueyang Yu

Student, Cornell University

Xianyang, Shaanxi, ChinaAge: 22

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I recently graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University with a degree in Computer Science, and am currently a M.S. student at Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources.

In 2015, at my undergraduate school in China, I co-founded and led my campus’ first environmental club, Sand County Academy. At first I faced a lack of interest in the environment among students studying foreign languages, but I met this challenge by integrating our club’s activities with everyday student activities in the dorms and cafeteria, and by helping students gain valuable communication skills through club projects. For example, we worked with the university cafeteria staff to encourage students to bring reusable bottles by giving them a discount on beverages, and engaged university students in games to learn about recycling. In the following years, I also co-founded and led the Union of Beijing Environmental Protection Campus Clubs and the Capacity Building Network (CaBuN!) for university environmental clubs. The activities I led include include club meetings, online lectures, workshops, online activities, mentorship and writing for campus environmental groups.

Now, my research focuses on the role of environmental education in campus environmental clubs, particularly in China. I have served as a course assistant for Cornell University’s environmental education massive open online course (MOOC), and also led a place-based program at home called “Legends of Sevenli,” addressing local history and “sense-of-place crisis.” I am also the leader of a volunteer team for the Nature of Cities (TNOC), helping Chinese readers understand selected TNOC essays.

What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?

I first found it hard to feel connected with my school and classes in Beijing, but it was Sand County Academy and the network of campus environmental clubs across China that gave me an important sense of belonging and a strong sense of community. The experience was so important to my university education that I often joke that I double majored in Campus Environmental Groups.

Now my work with campus environmental clubs is rooted in my daily life, and I enjoy it like I would a hobby. My sense of responsibility has become stronger since the more I see and learn, the more I realize how necessary my work is and the importance of innovation. I would feel anxious if I stopped with nobody there to continue the effort, so I am trying my best to bring my ideas to life and make them known by more people.

I see real beauty in the principles of environmental education, and its broad realm really fascinates me. Freedom, hope and love are woven into the core of environmental education, and those are what I see as essential to life as well.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?

Don't try to confine yourself to a certain role, a certain stand, or certain knowledge and skills. Keep learning, keep happy and follow your heart!

What pro-environmental behavior do you think would make a big impact if everyone in the world started doing it?

Refuse as much packaging as we can. Packaging is terrible, especially over-packaging, since much the material could have used to make other useful goods instead. In many situations, packaging unnecessary and can be easily avoided with our own bags, arms and hands. Packaging has become part of human culture, since it has also shaped so many aspects of our daily life. Today, it is time for this culture to be transformed.

If you could be any animal or plant, what would you be and why?

I would be a dog! I don’t like being locked indoors. I don’t like bullying and violence. I don’t like fake lawns, over-processed food, and chemical smells. I like cleaning plates and bowls. I like the smell of beloved people’s clothes. And I like shades dandelions, butterflies, and the shades of trees.

Dogs are not only the perfect companion to people whether indoors or outdoors, but also a natural environmental champion for green livable places in modern life. As people become more mindful of how their dogs take them to walk with their feet, see plants and animals with their eyes, and interact with nature with their original humanity, they are connected to nature.

Xianrong Yu