Roland Wang grew up in Hong Kong. He double-majored in natural resources and sociology at Cornell University and earned a master’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison in water resource management. He is now in his third year of teaching environmental systems and AP environmental science at YES Prep West. He also serves as the course leader for environmental systems. We interviewed him about his pathway to YES Prep, his passion for environmental sciences, and his role in the Asian & Pacific Islander American Summit.
What was your pathway to YES Prep?
After I graduated from UW, I did two years of AmeriCorps service in a small logging town in Oregon with an environmental non-profit focused on the stewardship of forests. We partnered with elementary schools to get students outdoors and learning more about their environment, so that they would see their forests as more than logging and timber. We taught them how to measure tree diameters, calculate the number of trees in an area, identify tree species and other techniques forest managers would learn. We also took students on a watershed tour from Crater Lake National Park to the Oregon coast.
My experience in Oregon kindled a passion for education; I felt that education was my calling. I heard about Teach For America (TFA) at Cornell and the organization was always on the back of my mind. I felt applying to TFA was a natural transition and a good avenue into the teaching profession.
Why do you remain at YES Prep?
There are incredible people here at YES Prep. Their passion and dedication to teaching is very palpable. The job is challenging but the level of support and camaraderie amongst the leadership, coaches and teachers is excellent. Everyone looks out for and supports one another to do their best, and it has made the job very sustainable for me. There’s always someone I can rely on for questions and suggestions.
Why are you passionate about teaching environmental sciences?
Growing up in the urban jungle that is Hong Kong, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to go out and do a lot in nature. Hong Kong is very compact, and it’s interesting to learn about the city’s relationship with green spaces. My high school courses addressed that conflict, and Cornell helped build and reinforce my interest in geography and environmental topics.
There is a shortage of passionate science educators. How would you convince someone with a science background to consider teaching?
I’d ask, “Why are you passionate in science?” and “Who inspired you to pursue your field of science?” I think for most, including myself, they would refer to their teachers as their source of motivation and inspiration. Teachers are powerful role models and students need to see and hear from someone who is passionate in the field if we want to develop the next generation of STEM leaders.
You spearheaded YES Prep’s first Asian & Pacific Islander American (APIA) summit for students last year. Can you tell us why this work was important?
During my first year, I’d heard from other teachers on campus that their Asian-American students were asking why they don’t have a summit when we have summits for Latinx and African-American students – and I asked the very same question. I spearheaded the summit because I felt that if YES Prep is describing itself as an inclusive environment through its mission of “Embracing and Protecting Diversity,” we need to recognize the diversity of all our students and staff. The summit was particularly important because the narratives of APIA students and staff are rarely discussed and appreciated, especially given the fact that the APIA student body is one of the smallest across the YES Prep district. The summit provided a safe space for students to share their personal narratives with each other.
What sessions did you have for the summit?
We started with an overview of the APIA identity. Despite being viewed as a monolithic group, the APIA community is very diverse — with over 300 spoken languages and over 40 different ethnic groups. That diversity can be both unifying and challenging when it comes to discussing issues of politics and identity. Other sessions included the model minority myth– the idea that APIA students are portrayed as studious, hardworking, successful in science and math, etc. However, this myth puts a lot of pressure on students to meet those expectations We also talked about how to manage and deal with microaggressions as well as how APIAs are portrayed in the media. We closed the summit with a discussion and call to build alliances with other minority groups.
How did hosting the summit impact you personally?
Despite growing up as an American in Hong Kong I never really developed an Asian American identity. In secondary school, identity generally revolved around one’s country of origin or nationality. But ever since I joined YES Prep I’ve been more conscious about what it means to be Asian American. Preparing the summit pushed me to learn as much as I can about our current social and political issues. I also learned a lot about our history, which I discovered is not well known even amongst the APIA community. Hosting the summit has made me realize the need for more APIA educators in classrooms not only as role models but also to ensure that our APIA students feel represented.