Angela's Story

Angela Zhong / 4 min read

Empowering change through leadership and sustainability.

Angela Zhong group picture

Angela Zhong is a Harvard undergraduate studying economics, environmental science, public policy, and Mandarin. Originally from Houston, she had already been involved in community service, leading on Houston’s Rotary Interact club for around 4000 high school students.

She is one of our 25Under25 Global Legacy Awards winner, recognized for her dedication to improving the world we live in and inspiring others to do the same. 

After moving to Boston for her studies, she was eager to immerse herself into the local ecosystem and deepen her understanding of wider local issues. This drive was based on the understanding that college students can have a large impact on the communities they move into, an aspect that is often overlooked or not taken advantage of.

The key outcomes from Angela Zhong's journey through the Boston401 programme showcase her leadership growth, collaborative achievements, and community impact.

  1. Enhanced understanding of leadership dynamics and community responsibilities.
  2. Increased confidence and sense of belonging by collaborating with a diversity of peers.
  3. Application of learned skills in real-world scenarios and recognition for impactful proposals addressing public transportation and carbon emissions in Boston.

"I was really excited to learn more about Boston and I wanted to help in any way that I could. So I joined a pre-orientation programme and signed up to a bunch of mailing lists, which is how I heard about Boston401 and that’s what drove me to apply."

Programme Experience

The programme provided an opportunity for deep reflection on leadership and community dynamics. It also deepened her understanding of the responsibilities that come with being in a position of leadership.

“You can theorize about poverty or injustice despite not having lived experiences and incremental systems change may yield positive outcomes, but only when they directly address the issues faced by those within. True understanding comes from earning trust with the communities you represent, whether in an official capacity or while working on projects, and Boston401 highlighted this deeper obligation.”

It also fostered a sense of confidence since, as a student, Angela often felt it was harder to be taken seriously. But by being treated as an equal by other programme participants, many of whom were older or more experienced, she felt empowered and it reinforced her sense of belonging.

Learning through collaboration

The project-based learning approach provided invaluable experience in collaboration and communication. Working with peers from diverse backgrounds and age groups allowed her to hone her interpersonal skills and appreciate the importance of cultivating a supportive team environment. 

angela zhong picture

"I used to jump straight into projects, but it was great to take a step back and set up a warm and welcoming work environment. I started appreciating small talk more than before. Now I see it as an opportunity to actually connect with someone, to figure out what we have in common for example."

Translating knowledge into action

Following the programme, Angela took part in the Go Carbon Neutral Challenge, a competition organised by the Museum of Science and General Motors that solicited student proposals for innovative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of Boston’s transportation sector.

Inspired by her learnings on the importance of accurately representing the needs of a community, Angela and her group, most of whom were new to Boston, designed a stakeholder survey that gathered over 2000 responses from residents of the wider Boston area.

“We were very intentional about tracking different communities. We made sure to represent suburbs that maybe don’t get thought about when you think about the metropolitan area of Boston.”

The initiative also prioritized an iterative process with a feedback loop to ensure the survey's relevance to respondents. This involved gathering feedback, expressing gratitude for it, and implementing necessary changes.

“At first, we weren’t 100% on the dot and what was really helpful was people giving us feedback. Responding to those comments and implementing changes was a great way to show people that we actually cared about this issue.”

As a result, they were able to overlay a map of Boston’s income demographics with the map of the local subway system and realised that low-income communities were underserved by public transportation. One of their key proposals was to extend one of the lines to allow more people to commute via public transit and effectively reducing carbon emissions.

The survey initiative was praised by the judges of the competition, and they ended up getting 2nd place as well as the People’s Choice award.

“It was like doing Boston401 all over again where I had to make sure we were accurately representing the needs of the community. The stakeholder survey was something the judges really like about our presentation and we definitely got recognition for that because of the scale of this initiative.”

The Boston401 Programme, part of our global Legacy campaign, challenges young people like Angela to envision the future they want to create for their city, region and country. Through immersive experiences and collaborative projects, Angela gained a deeper understanding of local issues and honed her skills to address them effectively. Her journey exemplifies the program's mission to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders.

“Boston401 is a great way to start unifying different intersections, bringing together a diversity of people who share an interest in community work, who want to deepen their knowledge on the area they live in and grow their network. Everyone I talked to was deeply passionate about serving the community and making sure that what they did had a positive impact. There’s no requisite background needed to join the programme other than passion and interest in these areas.”

Angela Zhong is a Harvard undergraduate studying economics, environmental science, public policy, and Mandarin.
She took part in the Boston401 Programme in 2020.

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