Q&A with 2015 Earth Day Scholarship Recipient Ziang Wang

Friday, July 10, 2015
World Globe

1. Tell us about how you became interested in green roofs?

While attending elementary school in Beijing, China, I witnessed first-hand the ever-worsening air pollution and consumed food contaminated by water and soil pollution. The memory from that formative time motivated me to complete a water filtration science project in middle school, which validating my interest in environmental science research. When I saw a miniature green roof model made by an upperclassman Anna during sophomore year, I was inspired by a miniature green roof model made by an upperclassman Anna to pursue an investigation on green roofs with my project partner, Aaron, who was interested in the engineering of such a structure. I decided to pursue the opportunity our advisor Dr. Peter Clancy offered because it optimally united my interests in the environment and economics. 

2. If there were one thing you could predict about the future of science, what would it be?

I think new scientific theories will continue emerge that will fundamentally challenge the way that we currently understand and interact with the world around us as that is simply the nature of science.

In Niels Bohr’s time, the atom was understood to be composed of a small, positively charge nucleus encircled by fixed rings of electrons. The simple model was widely accepted but later discarded in favor of the far more nuanced quantum mechanics model. The latter model describes the atom as a positive nucleus surrounded by numerous “electron clouds,” or atomic orbital zones, in which the electrons are likely to be found but travel as waves.

This new theory incorporated old observations, improved on the preexisting model through its nuances, and impacted other fields. It is same case in genetics. We have discovered that the order of genes on our chromosomes are not the only determinants of our traits. Rather, there appears to be a complex hierarchy of different genes, which operate in a micro-environment that also plays a role in our cells’ functions and processes.

These fundamental changes in the way we see the world are imminent, but one thing will always be required for such scientific progress – the spirit of fearless pioneering and discovery in the face of the overwhelming force of the status quo.

3. If there were one thing you could have in the classroom that you don’t currently, what would it be?

My high school has been fortunate enough to have relatively few fiscal concerns and many experiential learning opportunities, both of which I believe are important to the knowledge acquisition and generation process. However, a common theme I believe exists in all classrooms of all levels is the lack of a system to incentivize and assess students other than the grade point average (GPA), ranking, percentile, and other traditional schemes. We as human beings are so nuanced that one number is hardly sufficient to capture our understanding, effort, and accomplishments. However, I also recognize the fact that there needs to be a fair system in place. My student council has worked on something that is geared towards IMSA’s unique inquiry-based learning process (can read about it here: https://sites.imsa.edu/studco/moderntranscript/), but I think it sets up a very rigorous framework upon which all high schools can refer to in setting their own “modern transcript.”

4. Tell us about your favorite teacher, how have they supported or inspired you?

My self-confidence was shattered when I first arrived at my academically rigorous, highly selective public boarding school. My peers’ abilities were daunting anyways and I felt even more inferior to them as I had skipped freshmen year and consequently enrolled in lower level courses.

Taking Dr. Don Dosch’s introductory biology class was the best thing that happened to me.

Through the combination of his motivating speeches, novel techniques, strenuous coursework, and my persistence, I gained a degree of humble confidence in the subject and a persistent approach to understanding and engaging with the content. Moreover, his mantra of revisiting subjects where I have not previously excelled has influenced the choices I have made in the rest of my academic career and helped me see the possible joys of learning.

On a more personal level, Dr. Dosch has been one of the few teachers that I have been able to truly relate to. I enjoy the times I am able to talk to him about my anxieties and celebrating with him my successes even after finished his coursework. Although I have graduated, I nonetheless plan to keep up correspondence with him for I regard him as an excellent mentor.

5. How has NSHSS played a role in your academic career?

Through the NSHSS Foundation scholarships, NSHSS has empowered me in my pursuit of academic training in business and environmental science. With this scholarship, I will be able to access the education critical to my personal development and my plans to facilitate further innovations in environmental science and sustainability.

6. What is your fondest memory related to your research, thus far?

As anyone conducting research can likely relate to, the setup of the experiment takes the longest time. As part of my environmental science research project, my research partner and I had to re purpose a mini, mobile home for our green roof experiment. The preparation began early in the school year with growing the rows of sedum plants that eventually made their way on the roof. 
However, we experienced many setbacks and had to reevaluate our experimental setup many times. In fact, we once had to deal with the effects of a near miss with a tornado. Nonetheless, through the chilling winds and rain, we did it.  In late January, we finally finished constructing our green roof and rejoiced in the fact that we could actually start perform our experiments.

Moreover, I will always cherish the moment our school’s Chief Innovation Officer asked my research partner and I to take part of the IMSA PowerUp Exhibition and several admissions events, which really affirmed the accomplishments of the study.

7. What do you plan to study in college and how does that fit in the context of where you see yourself in 10 years?

Through the context of my research project and other classes at IMSA, I have affirmed and been able to explore for sustainability innovations, economics, and public policy. Thus, while at New York University, I plan to complete a dual major in business and environmental science and perhaps a minor in computer science or policy management.

In 10 years, I see myself in a novel role that will link all stakeholders in environmental protection and sustainability. Armed with scientific knowledge, policy background, and a keen business sense, I hope to establish common understanding among scientists, politicians, and businessmen, all of whom have traditionally spoken “different languages,” in order to unite them in the goal of protecting the environment and facilitating critical innovations to the sustainability of human development.

8. What do you hope for this year’s incoming Freshman class?

What I sincerely hope and what I think a novel evaluation scheme will allow is for the incoming freshmen class to truly explore their intellectual interests and follow through on them with applications in real life. Instead of concentrating on college admissions and everything associated with it, which some of my peers and I have been guilty of, I hope they will “live a little”, read widely, have interesting experiences, question their preconceived notions, and find their unique, personal identity in the meantime. Thus, they will become intriguing individuals with passions, informed opinions, questions, and, the most important of all, an authentic identity that takes into account all of their experiences, academic and otherwise. These experiences will transform the incoming class from (more or less) one dimensional students with little of their own to say to dynamic human beings with unique perspectives.

9. Outside of your research, what has been your favorite / most enjoyable aspect of high school?

While I think I probably complained as much as anyone about it during high school, my favorite aspect of the high school experience has actually been living two-and-a-half hours away from home. Effectively left to my own devices, I had to confront the “sink-or-swim” reality that is adulthood. Rather than being told what to do exactly, IMSA offered me more liberties than what I would have had at home to take care of myself. It was definitely a learning experience, but I grew to become more responsible and independent person for not only the academic aspects but also other personal aspects such as doing my laundry and taking care of my health. Furthermore, the privilege of living on campus allowed me to develop very close friendships that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

10.  What do you do to stay organized / focused?

When working, I am often distracted by other things. When possible, I turn off the internet and other electronic devices as they happen to be the most common sources of distractions. Other times, I stay focus by listening to light music and stay sharp by eating and taking breaks as necessary. To stay organized, I force myself to clean up the spaces around me, which contributes to staying focused. Furthermore, I make lists and utilize electronic applications to keep track of my busy day.

11. How do you relax? What’s your favorite hobby?

While I try to do as much as I can in the little free time I have, I can best relax by listening to music and reading a thought-provoking book, watching a new movie, or blogging. If I had more time, I would run more and maybe try yoga.

12. What are you doing currently?

Right now, I am in China, visiting my extended family and interning with an agricultural commodities trading firm. I am learning about Excel modeling and the agricultural commodities markets in the risk hedging department. I plan to follow up this experience with an immersion in marketing through an internship for a nearby hospital. While I appreciate the critical immersion in business disciplines that these experiences have given me, the most gratifying experience this summer has actually been to see the blue sky for an entire week.

While the skies, waterways, and soil in metropolitan China are still largely polluted, the experience reaffirmed my conviction of the necessity and potential impacts of environmental protection and energy sustainability efforts. Further, I have become more convinced that environmental protection must be coupled with alternative, green economic solutions to ensure the efficacy of protection efforts.

About Ziang Wang, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, 2015 graduate, Peoria, IL

Ziang has conducted research to determine the effectiveness of green roofs. The soil vegetation systems placed on top of building delays rainwater from entering the drainage system, decreases air pollution and noise, and lowers carbon dioxide concentrations. Ziang’s year-long study revealed that the green roof provided heat savings and retained runoff water. Ziang has presented his research at the IMSAloquium and at IMSA’s Power Up Conference.

Ziang is a co-president of Key Club. He has worked as a website design intern for the US-China Hospital and Physician Best Practices Consortium and as the lead student investigator at the University of Chicago in studying the ways Chinese investments and aid programs have influenced the development of targeted African economies. Ziang is also a member of the varsity track and field and cross country teams.