Kroon Cup Winner Elaine Lac Recognized for Building Strong YSE Community
With a background in community organizing and experience as an international Peace Corps volunteer, Lac devoted countless hours at the Yale School of the Environment working to bring communities of people together.
When Elaine Lac, ’22 MEM first thought about what it meant to have an impact, her definition was very different than it is today. As a community organizer on environmental issues, she worked to elevate public awareness on climate change, influence policy, and pass legislation.
Having focused her studies at the Yale School of the Environment on industrial ecology and green chemistry, she has been exploring the entrepreneurial space to develop sustainable consumer products.
After facing “the toughest challenge in a generation,” the YSE Class of 2022 graduated May 23 with a unique sense of community and the will to lead.
Her ventures in business earned her and team members a Geneva Challenge prize, a Climate Innovation Grant from the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and the Sobotka Seed Prize for sustainable ventures.
But she has also had an impact in a very different space. With a background in community organizing and experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, Lac devoted a good deal of her time at YSE working to bring communities of people together. These efforts earned her the 2022 Kroon Cup, an award presented annually to graduating students who steward projects that engage and inspire the YSE community.
“So much of the School is based around a strong community and prior to coming to YSE, I was very concerned that my class wouldn't be able to connect in ways that were meaningful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was very motivated during my two years to plan as many events as possible to bring people together,” says Lac.
As a member of The Forest Club, Lac worked within COVID-19 campus restrictions to plan major student events including Halloween.
Students who nominated Lac said she went above and beyond to ensure a strong sense of community at YSE.
“Elaine has been instrumental in building a sense of community for my graduating class. At a time when many of us were struggling to find the energy to stay engaged at home or in class, Elaine took the time and the initiative to bring us together around food, games, and fun. Elaine, quite singlehandedly, created tangible and long-lasting value for members of my class, by bringing us together as a cohort,” one student wrote in nominating Lac.
While at YSE, she also served as co-leader of the Industrial Ecology and Green Chemistry student interest group and as student coordinator for the School’s Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee (EQUID), developing seminars and events around specific issues such as discrimination and rising incidents of violence against Asian Americans. She also helped organize artistic events showcasing music, poetry, and art featuring artists of color.
The positive attitude of her peers reflected in all the community events and research endeavors at YSE has inspired her, she says.
“I admire the Yale community’s ability to make the best of everything and anything,” Lac says. “All the news that we hear every day about forest fires, hotter summers, and rising temperatures can weigh so heavily on an individual. I am constantly impressed by the enthusiasm, passion, innovation, and hard work my class has towards environmental work, but also in their everyday lives. Even when things were really bad during the pandemic, when we never got to see each other, people were still trying to make the best of things.”
Going forward, Lac says her work at YSE as a research associate and teaching assistant for the Center for Industrial Ecology has helped her develop concepts for sustainable commerce.
In 2021, Lac was part of a team of students that won the Geneva Institute’s 2021 Geneva Challenge for a startup platform called BuyBy that connects farmers through a digital app with buyers who can use crop byproducts for resources to cut down on pollution caused by the burning of crop stubble.
“Elaine is a community-centered person with far-reaching interests,” says Marian Chertow, professor of industrial environmental management and director of CIE. “She always completes what she needs to do in a thoughtful, expedient, and respectful way.”
She is now working with partners on creating a biodegradable fabric from lotus silk, tapping into family in Vietnam and suppliers there.
“There has not been much attention on lotus silk. So, we want to operationalize it to scale so it can become a replacement or alternative to conventional silk, or just a new fabric on its own,” she says. “That is my goal now, to create a startup that solves a tangible problem.”