Nurturing human communities and natural ecosystems | MIT News

When she was in 7th grade, Heidi Lee and five other members of the Oyster Gardening Club grew hundreds of oysters to help repopulate the Chesapeake Bay. The day they released the oysters into the bay, the event drew TV reporters and local officials, including the governor. Young Lee’s eyes opened to how small, seemingly, efforts in her local community could have a real impact.

“I need to see for myself how we can make change at the grassroots level and how it affects where we are,” she says.

Growing up in Howard County, Maryland, Lee was constantly surrounded by nature. Her family often traveled to the Chesapeake Bay, as it reminded them of her parents ’home in Shandong, China. Lee worked to close the cultural gap between parents who grew up in China and their children who grew up in the United States, and attended a Chinese school every Sunday for 12 years. This experience instilled in her a community-oriented mindset that Lee brought with her to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she now specializes in materials science and engineering.

During her first year, Lee conducted a research project on microbiology as part of the Bachelor of Science (UROP) program at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She studied microbes in the aquatic environment, analyzing how water purity affects immunity and changes in the behavior of marine bacteria.

Experience has led her to reflect on how environmental policies have affected sustainable development efforts. She began to apply this problem to energy, asking herself questions such as: “How can you take this particular economic principle and apply it to energy? What has energy policy looked like in the past and how can we adapt it to our current energy system? ”

To explore the intersection of politics and energy, Lee participated in the Roosevelt project through the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Studies during the summer after her undergraduate course. The project used case studies aimed at specific communities in vulnerable areas to suggest methods for a more sustainable future. Lee focused on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, assessing the efficiency of the energy transition from natural gas and fossil fuels to carbon capture, which would mean the redistribution of carbon dioxide produced by the coal industry. After a trip to Pittsburgh and a stakeholder survey in the area, Lee looked at how local community leaders are creating physical places for citizens to share their ideas and views on the transition to energy.

“I watched as community leaders create a safe space for people from the neighborhood to share their ideas for entrepreneurship. I saw how important the community is and how to create change at the grassroots level, ”she said.

In the summer of 2021, Lee underwent an internship at the energy consulting company Wood Mackenzie, where she considered technologies that could potentially help in the transition of energy from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Its task was to make sure that the technology could be implemented efficiently and economically by optimizing the resources available to the surrounding area. The project allowed Lee to participate in industry efforts to build and analyze technological advances for different decarbonization scenarios. She hopes to continue to consider both local, public, and external, sectoral, insights into how economic policy will affect stakeholders.

On campus, Lee is the current president of the Sustainable Energy Alliance (SEA), where she seeks to make students more aware of climate change and its impact on the environment. In the summer of sophomore year, Lee led a sustainability hackathon for more than 200 high school students, where she developed and led the Climate Refugees and Environmental Injustice Tasks to inspire students to reflect on humanitarian efforts to protect frontline communities.

“The whole purpose of this is to give students the opportunity to think about solutions for themselves. Empowering students is very important to show them that they can change and instill hope in themselves and the people around them, ”she says.

Lee also organized and prepared an podcast “Open SEAcrets”, designed to engage MIT students in topics related to energy sustainability, and give them the opportunity to share their views on this topic. It views the podcast as a platform to raise awareness about energy, climate change and environmental policy, and evokes a sense of community with listeners.

When she is not in class or lab, Lee relaxes while playing volleyball. She joined the volleyball club in her freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, although she has been playing since she was 12 years old. This sport allows her not only to relieve stress, but also to have conversations with both students and graduate students who bring different backgrounds, interests. , and experience before conversations. This sport has also taught Lee teamwork, trust and the importance of community than her other experiences.

Looking ahead, Lee is currently working on a UROP project that is developing a curriculum on climate change for K-12 classes and aims to show how climate change and energy are an integral part of people’s daily lives. Seeing the transition of energy as an interdisciplinary problem, she wants to teach students about the challenges of climate change and sustainability, using perspectives from mathematics, science, history and psychology, and these are several areas.

But above all, Lee wants to enable the younger generations to develop solutions-oriented approaches to the environment. She hopes to give local communities a voice in policy implementation with the ultimate goal of a more sustainable future for all.

“Finding a community where you really thrive will allow you to push yourself and become a better version of yourself. I want to embrace this thinking and create a space for people, as well as create and instill this sense of community, ”she says.


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