A planeteer’s proposal

BBHS top scholar Chloe Ng talks turkey about school days past and times ahead at the University of Pennsylvania

By John Donegan

This story originally appeared in the 7/2/21 edition of the Westmore News. For the original article, follow the link.

At its June 15 meeting, the Blind Brook Board of Education deferred from its routine proceedings for a special presentation. Chloe Ng and Claire Berry, both Blind Brook High School seniors at the time, bravely broached the stage, their heads barely floating above the wooden podium.

The audience was particularly packed. That night, retiring teachers and staff were being honored with guest speeches from coworkers and their superiors. In short, the two students picked the best day to call out the school’s carbon footprint. As the presentation proceeded, Ng’s initial hesitation gave way to confidence.

Using statistics on the PowerPoint projecting above them, Ng and Berry proposed that the district convert its utilities to solar power. They also suggested the board upgrade the heating and cooling systems in the schools with more efficient air circuit pumps, install electric charging stations and switch to electric buses. They added that it was important the school lead by the lessons they preach.

Ng, 18, could have chosen something simpler than facing a room full of professional educators twice and three times her age. This presentation was part of her Senior Options, a final school project or professional internship required of all final year students looking to graduate. The school allows the seniors to build a project from nearly any subject or topic.

“If we switch to solar energy, there are a lot of options for us,” Ng said in a later conversation. “It’s also really cost effective and a good way to showcase to the community that it’s the direction that we’re heading in. I also think it’s really good for the students to learn about clean energy solutions and the investments that we’re making into their futures.”

This presentation was the culmination of Ng’s internship with Earthkind Energy, a sustainable energy consulting company.

“We also wanted to contribute something back to our school community,” she said. “So we looked at a bunch of different options for what the Blind Brook School District can do to become more sustainable and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The school board thanked the two for their proposal and said that it would go under advisement. Two weeks later, on Thursday, June 24, Ng and her 121 classmates graduated. Ng was one of the school’s top students, receiving the Blind Brook Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents Achievement Award based on earning one of the two highest GPAs, at an awards ceremony on June 3.

She also received the school’s Senior Science Award, the Journalism Award and was named a National Merit finalist. She attributes her accomplishments to choosing her passions early—computers and climate science—and sticking with them, treating them the way one would treat a hobby or recreation.

“I think success is about finding your passion and doing a lot of work to make it,” Ng said. “It’s hard to devote a lot of time and effort to something you’re not interested in. I’m glad that I found things that I enjoy doing.”

Ng’s journey toward studying the environment began after her first steps through her backyard, picking and prodding the flora and spying on the fauna. “Since I was very young, I always liked being outdoors and I was always fascinated by the natural world,” she said.

One of her biggest role models is the primatologist Jane Goodall. Ng reveres Goodall both for her environmental work and for being a woman in science, where many fields are male dominated. According to a 2014 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while biology attracts the greatest number of women to college and academic careers, female representation shrinks to 39 percent at the post-doctoral level. Only 18 percent of tenured biology professors are women. While fields such as primatology and anthropology have seen an increase in the proportion of women occupying academic positions over the last few decades, women are still under-represented in senior academic ranks compared to their male colleagues, according to 2012 research at Georgia State University.

“She was one of the first female scientists to run out, do her own research and make great discoveries,” Ng said. “Her story is what pushed me to get into conservation.”

Ng correlates time spent with time earned. Things do not come naturally; you have to work at them. As she grew older and moved on to Blind Brook High School, her fascination with nature shifted from the backyard to the schoolyard, becoming involved with the restoration of Harkness Park, which sits behind the building.

“I think what has motivated me to keep loving science is the teachers that I’ve had,” Ng said. “I have really strong relationships with all the teachers, but particularly my science teachers. They’ve always pushed me to keep going and always supported me with any crazy science thing I wanted to do.”

The Harkness Park restoration ties in with one of Ng’s biggest accomplishments during her time at the high school: reviving its Roots and Shoots club. The club is a national organization founded by none other than Goodall herself, encouraging environmental conservation education.

Ng said she will miss her time at Blind Brook. She’ll miss her friends, the Roots and Shoots club and her teachers. Aside from two years spent with her mother in Hong Kong during the fifth and sixth grade, Ng has always been a Trojan. This fall, she’ll be an official Quaker, heading off to study at the University of Pennsylvania. There she will decide whether her focus will be environmental or on computer science.

Looking back over her four years of high school, Ng said she has no regrets. “I think even the times I had to sacrifice or devote time to study or doing a project, it was because I wanted to; it was something I enjoyed,” she said.

She plans to return when possible, especially to tend to the new garden she helped open at Harkness Park, which is wedged on the soft rise between the main building and the tennis courts. She also hopes to help groom the next members of the Roots and Shoots club to be the next Jane Goodall—or Chloe Ng.

“Although we are graduating, we’re hoping that the younger members in the Roots and Shoots club can carry the torch,” Ng said. “Hopefully as we return in the next few years, we will see Blind Brook become a greater place.”

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