Future of Sustainability Lies with Our Youth

Today we celebrate International Youth Day! Across the world, countless young people are taking action in their communities to create a more sustainable future. We wanted to highlight one of those youth - our Youth Sustainability Leadership Program (YSLP) participant Kynnedy Simone Smith. She became involved in the world of sustainability at quite a young age and has been on an ascending path towards an exciting career.


Our team member Philena Seldon caught up with Kynnedy last week to learn more about her experience at YSLP and current endeavors. Check out the conversation with this young lady who’s sure to leave you inspired!


Philena Seldon: How did you get involved in sustainability?

Kynnedy: I got involved in sustainability in the 4th grade when I learned about upcycling at my local Boys and Girls Club. I hated that my peers threw away material that could easily be used to create new things, so I collected used Capri Sun juice packets from my friends at dinner and snack time and used my sewing machine to remake them into earrings, purses, belts, headbands, and even a skirt! Ever since then, I always try to be conscious of the amount of waste that I produce, and I like finding innovative ways to reduce waste in my everyday routines and educate others in my community about sustainability as well. 


PS: What is your area of focus within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)?

Kynnedy: My specific area of focus in STEM is computer science. I have been coding and participating in STEM programs since the 7th grade. I have conducted research in the field and completed many coding projects. This summer, I’m studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community. I am also doing college-level research on predictive analytics with the assistant director of computer science at New York University. In the future, I aspire to major in computer science and eventually get my Ph.D. in the field with a concentration in Human-Computer-Interaction. 


PS: How did you learn about the YSLP program?

Kynnedy: I stumbled across the website while looking up ways I can get involved in sustainability. I applied right away!


PS: What project did you complete and share while participating in the program?

Kynnedy: My school has many practices that produce large amounts of unnecessary waste. So, during the program, I created an online website and campaign called Everyday Hero to combat this issue. The campaign encourages the students at my school to commit heroic acts by practicing sustainability “missions” every day. Each “mission” is something that can help the environment in little ways, like saying no to plastic cups, plastic water bottles, and loose-leaf paper. The ultimate goal is to inspire my peers to understand the importance of sustainability and practice it each day. 


PS: How has your project helped others learn about sustainability?

Kynnedy: Through my project, people at my school have been able to learn about how their habits contribute to the large amount of waste that comes from our school building and harms the environment. They have also been able to identify ways to easily adapt sustainable habits and encourage others to the same. 


PS: How can others participate in your project?

Kynnedy: To participate in my project, people can volunteer to help expand Everyday Hero into their own school, work, or neighborhood communities. This can be done by encouraging people to take up a sustainability mission or by becoming an Everyday Hero ambassador and joining my team to help educate more people about the importance of being sustainable.  


PS: Who is your inspiration in STEM?

Kynnedy: My STEM inspiration is Dr. Jamika Burge. She is a black woman making strides in the STEM field with a Ph.D. in computer science and a concentration in Human-Computer-Interaction — paving the way for me in the exact field I want to pursue. Her passion, courage, and resilience has given me the motivation to work even harder so that I can follow a similar path and achieve my goals. People like Dr. Burge prove to me that my dream is possible as long as I work hard enough. 


PS: What does health mean to you in relationship to STEM and sustainability?

Kynnedy: Health is the backbone of sustainability. I believe that practicing sustainably for the environment is the act of ensuring the health of our communities and the earth as a whole. In STEM, maintaining or improving the health of our earth should be a priority for every new product or piece of technology that we create, as these things are often what causes the most damage to our environment. 


PS: What are you currently working on in sustainability? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

Kynnedy: Currently, I am focusing on educating people in my family, my school community, and my neighborhood about the importance of practicing sustainability through my own advocacy and Everyday Hero. 

In the future, while I do not plan to pursue sustainability as a career, I hope to be an advocate in it in everything that I do. I love to invent and create new things, so my ultimate dream is to create my own tech company so that I have the ability to make and sell all of the creations floating around in my head. Sustainability will be one of the main goals of my future company, and I hope that each of the products I make can help reduce waste or conserve energy. 


We wish Kynnedy the best as she pursues her dream and hope to catch up with her in the future!

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