Greetings from Aaron
你好 Ni Hao,
I am Aaron Feng, a first-year Master of Environmental Management (MEM) student from China and a new student worker in the Admissions Office this academic year. As an international student, social entrepreneur, and unconventional “forester” at the lower age range at F&ES, I want to bring a unique perspective and contribute to the diversity of the community. I believe working with admissions will grant me precious opportunities to interface with prospective students and showcase my experience in this beloved community.
Life before F&ES
Born and raised in Wuhan, an industrial transportation hub with a population of 8 million in Central China, I connected with the environment in a very different way from most of my colleagues at F&ES. Many of my classmates here love nature and outdoor activities, but I lived in high-rise apartments, never hiked before moving to the US, and only saw people camp in films. However, I developed my deep passion for conservation after I experienced severe air and water pollution in my community due to economic development.
When I moved to Beijing for college in 2014, the air pollution there was so tangible that the PM2.5 level exceeds the maximum level of the measurement for weeks. I was supposed to wear masks for the whole winter (which I gave up after a few days). At my then-school, Tsinghua University, I decided to study the environment because of a conference I went to – Paris Climate Negotiation Simulation session at Sciences Po Paris. At the conference, I was amazed at how students completely rethought and redesigned the existing climate negotiation in an innovative way.
During sophomore year, I transferred to Vanderbilt and continued my study abroad. My passion for sustainability grew through my academic training and internship and peaked through my involvement with two environmental startups. During the summer, I worked at a solar energy nonprofit in Washington, DC and I later gained a research opportunity to visit leading solar manufacturers in eastern China. However, my passion for the industry reached its apex when I first saw the fascinating intersection between entrepreneurship and the environment. First, I joined Leaves Plates Company—the startup set on promoting sustainable, eco-friendly plates made from leaves. This experience inspired me to explore simple business solutions to complex environmental challenges. Thus, when I found the dockless bike-share model that gained tremendous popularity in China in 2017, I decided to join ofo, a preeminent Chinese bike-sharing startup, on its market expansion in the US.
However, when both environmental startups encountered financial challenges, I began to pivot my career to ventures funding those sustainable companies – including working at the U.S.-China Green Fund, a sustainability-focused private equity firm. At the Fund, I realized the powerful leverage of investors on companies’ sustainability performance. Thanks to the diverse opportunities in policy, startups, and finance, I learned to interact with a wide range of people, including clients, investors, and other entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, these experiences have made me aware of my limited professional training and networks in the industry. With a goal to grasp a deeper understanding of business and the environment, I came straight to F&ES after graduation.
Having settled down at F&ES for 3 months, I am blessed with a close-knitted and vibrant community and abundant resources for entrepreneurs at Yale and beyond. On campus, I am working with Helen Gichohi, the President of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and McCluskey Fellow, on evaluating the environmental impacts of Chinese infrastructure investments in East Africa. I am also coordinating the 3rd Belt and Road Initiative Symposium at Yale next spring. I am involved in Yale Sustainability & Finance Group, Asia SIG, and Climate Change SIG. In addition, as part of the 2050 Future Fellow Program at Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY), I participate in a monthly lunch meeting with Vincent Stanley from Patagonia, discussing the future of human society. I also had the honor to represent Yale at the UNFCCC conference Bangkok, where I closely followed the negotiation on climate finance. In a short time period, I have already been dazzled by the amazing opportunities offered at F&ES and the broader Yale community.
Life after F&ES
To be honest, this is a question mark I am eager to figure out. But I hope to enjoy my presence every second here in this community. Realistically, I hope to venture into the nexus of sustainability and finance and bridge the gap between investors and environmentalists. How would that look like? I guess we will find out soon!