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The NY Sun Works Youth Conference in Review!

June 9, 2023

We’re wrapping up our coverage of this year’s annual Youth Conference, but we couldn’t forget to mention and shout out the heart of our work – the students! With a variety of intriguing presentations from students as young as 2nd grade, and as old as 12th, we truly appreciate all the hard work they did in preparing for this exciting event. We also want to commend the bravery it took to stand in front of an audience of over 900 peers and teachers, and present personal research and projects live! These students have truly done something remarkable, and we hope they will carry this experience with them into the future.  

Kicking off the first session of student presenters was Javits Center President and CEO Alan Steel, who as an avid environmentalist, made great strides in aligning the signature glass architecture of Javits with sustainability initiatives like their rooftop pavilion and farm, as well as significant investments into the Center’s energy efficiency. This first session centered on Growing, with students focusing their work on adopting the mantle of farmer-scientists, and running investigations in their hydroponic classrooms. Students used creative solutions and the scientific method to repurpose plant suckers, examine water quality, and dive into plant pollinators. Additionally, audience members learned about plant life cycles, including how nutrient choices and even emotional stimuli can impact plant growth! Right after, we heard from Qiana Micke, the first Executive Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture, who leads the city’s efforts to increase access to and production of locally fresh food, while minimizing our contributions to climate change.

Our second session emphasized Innovation, and inspiring students to act as innovators. This session was introduced by Gotham Greens co-founder and sustainability entrepreneur Viraj Puri! Viraj has grown Gotham Greens to be one of the largest commercially successful indoor farming companies, changing the way city-goers think about local and fresh foods.Students presenting during this section tackled designing hydroponic systems of their own, as well as imagining solutions to a variety of current climate challenges. Student topics included repurposing rainwater for greenhouse use using a rainwater catchment system, alternative growing substrates for soilless farming, homemade and automated hydroponic systems, and even the benefits of vermicomposting! Presenters in this group were particularly diligent about recording their observations and data, showing off their passion for science and creativity. And closing out this section will be New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Speaker Adams, as a true innovator, acts as the first-ever African American Speaker and leads not only the most diverse Council in NYC history but also the first women-majority Council! 

Finally, we concluded with a session focused on Action and Change. We want our students to act as global citizens, and engage in community events at a local level, while thinking about greater challenges in the bigger picture. Introducing students who presented their activism-forward projects was Kaela Mainsah, Vice President of New York Power Authority’s Environmental Justice program. Kaela has been creating change for over 15 years in the worlds of environmental policy and engineering management, both in the US and UK. These farmer-scientists took their learning beyond the hydroponic classroom, with topics including the effects of ocean acidification on shelled sea animals, how green space on school campuses impacts air quality, interactions between plants and heavy metals, and the pros and cons of sunscreen! Additionally, students created community-focused projects such as using hydroponics to create in-school connections, and promote school stewardship, as well as awareness of where our food comes from. And last but certainly not least, rounding out our show was Jerri Taylor, the Director of Diversity in Career Pathways at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Through building support programs for diverse youth looking to navigate green careers, she leads multiple programs carving out new ways for the next generation to tackle today’s environmental issues.

Additionally, this year’s Conference hosted a variety of other exciting opportunities! Firstly, our inaugural Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Career Fair hosted 16 organizations in education, sustainability, science, and urban farming from around NYC, connecting High School students in our workforce development program with scholarship, internship, and job opportunities. Additionally, a Student Art Show from West End Secondary decorated the glass halls of Javits splendidly, giving students attending the conference a beautiful welcome. And lastly, our new and improved Youth Press Team covered the Conference live, interviewing presenters and guest speakers alike for their newly published articles.

We are incredibly proud of all the hard work these students put in, performing their experiments and studies, preparing them for presentation, and climbing the steps of the stage to speak in front of a live audience. Additionally, we are deeply thankful for the teachers and parents who guided them along the way, providing insights and direction when needed, and otherwise allowing students to thrive and succeed. If you would like to watch these presentations for yourself, check out the full Conference recording


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