Yung Nguyen | Class of 2014 | B.S. Environmental Engineering, minor in Urban Studies and Planning
Why is sustainability important to you?
I was born in Vietnam and grew up there until I was 10. Even though I lived in Sai Gon, the old capital of Southern Vietnam, much of where I lived was underdeveloped and sidewalks were separated by canals of streams, wastes, and rainwater runoffs. Flood, blackouts, and contaminated water supply – they were no stranger to my life. I have seen people living in huts where decaying woods and leaves are holding up the structure. I have seen trash and blackened water flow next to a 4-story apartment’s bricks. Even though things are a lot better now as my hometown is more developed, I believe climate change can quickly make them almost permanent or long enough to be a hazard to many people’s livelihood. I still have a lot of family in Vietnam, so I do not want to see climate change destroy their lives. Another strong influence is my spiritual origin that changed my attitude toward animal agriculture and silent suffering of billions of sentient beings being murdered every year for flesh. Often, I felt helpless and powerless to see such unnecessary suffering that these intelligent beings have to go through.
Sustainability has many branches, but I think the mission in any sustainability line of work- whether it be water work, waste management, resource management, energy efficiency, and etcetera – will always have a humble purpose of protecting someone or something. From my personal journey, I knew I wouldn’t be here without the help of people who cared about others without knowing who the others are personally. When I was thinking about what I want to do with my life, I wanted to be in a profession to pay it forward, protect my family, and protect those who didn’t have a voice. And sustainability was it!
Could you talk about your current work at DNV GL and how it helps to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
At DNV GL, formerly known as KEMA, I currently work as an engineer in the Sustainable Buildings & Communities (SBC) group. My business unit is specialized in building science services and large-scale planning studies such as climate action plan, resiliency planning, and energy planning. We work with cities, developers, and design teams to come up with strategies to attain the highest sustainable goals. My team works on delivering at least 50 Platinum Certified LEED projects and some of the first few net-zero energy buildings.
I am one of the technical support staff where my skill sets are in energy modeling, building science, and data analytics. On a daily basis, I support the energy modeling work and create complex calculations to inform a decision. I enjoy bringing visualization of solutions to the table and supporting my senior co-workers with quality deliverable to clients.
The most challenging projects that I have worked on at DNV GL are international projects where there are economic and social issues that first world countries are not used to. However, I feel very fortunate to be involved in these projects and apply the best practices I’ve learned to recommend solutions. Most often the long-term goals such as UN Sustainable Development Goals are translated or integrated into our work where we show clients other key metrics that are not usually considered in the equation. I am very much inspired by my team members who really believe the solutions we deliver and having the data to show for it.
My company also shows its dedication to innovation by investing a portion of our earnings toward research and development. As a company, DNV GL produces Energy Transition Outlook Report as well as A Safe & Sustainable Future roadmap report updated every few years or so, where our research team laid out the vision for the future with UN Sustainable Development Goals in mind. Our team works together with our forward-thinking customers very hard every day to bring these visions to life.
Could you talk about your involvement with the student organizations at UCSD? What projects/campaigns were you a part of?
Out of my student org involvement, the most memorable experience was being the outreach coordinator/lead for Engineers without Borders. While admittedly I had no idea what I was doing, I had help from Saura Naderi, who now works at Qualcomm Think-a-Bit STEM program, as well as anyone who was there at every outreach meeting *shout out to OG squad*.
We organized a group of volunteers to deliver a lesson plan with students at the Second Chance Program who works with incarcerated youths and even took them to UC San Diego for a campus tour. The project later on expanded to building an actual aquaponic system with the students on their community farm. While being an outreach coordinator didn’t seem like it was applicable to my future engineering position, this experience was a great blessing as I connected with many friends and learned a great deal in creating a curriculum. Recently, I was working on creating an energy efficiency curriculum for the Chula Vista Elementary School District with the City of Chula Vista. By working with students and the outreach community previously, it has helped me to think from the student’s perspective and create the best product as possible.
Secondly, I really appreciated the experience of starting a student organization back then (Association of Energy Engineers – UCSD chapter). With AEE, my friends and I were able to participate in a Department of Energy Better Building Case Competition. With the help of campus resources and our amazing treasurer, Michelle Tang, our team traveled to Washington D.C., competed with 27 other universities, and brought back the “Most Innovative Award”. It caught us by surprise, and that feeling still left a smile on my face.
Third, I truly met a lot of inspiring human beings from PEACE (People for the Elimination of Animal Cruelty through Education). We worked together to hand out free vegan foods on library walk once a year on MeatOut Day to show people how delicious vegan foods are. PEACE also worked very hard to get an all-vegan restaurant on campus among other grassroots activities. I remember I made 170 vegan cupcakes one year and worked at a food booth during SunGod to bring vegan options to the festival. A lot of my role models were my peers from this group who continue to be torch-carrier of kindness and sustainability in different corners of the earth.
All in all, I think these involvements really shaped who I am and have a special place in my heart.
What’s your graduation year, major(s)/minor(s)?
I graduated in 2014 with Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering and a minor in Urban Studies and Planning. For my technical track, I took static, dynamics, control series, and SIO classes in hydrology and ArcGIS.
I often get asked whether what I learned in school is useful in my current work and what I would recommend. The short-ish answer: Yes, usually the classes will be useful if you can include what you learned and illustrate it in your project portfolio. Thus, I would recommend practical classes outside of your standard curriculum, such as classes taught by industry leaders and/or classes that offer training in a particular software or particular skill set. My thinking has become more pragmatic as an engineer, so by finding classes that apply “learning by doing” really worked for me.