Audrey Ng (BA ’17)
“Definitely not linear!”
That’s how DU alumna Audrey Ng describes the path she took to her current role as water and sustainability projects manager for Boston Public Schools. In that role, she’s a key player bringing the school district’s Green New Deal to life.
Although her route to this dream job might not seem conventional or scripted, it does seem like it was meant to be.
Raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Ng grew up determined to make life better for fauna of all descriptions.
“When I was younger, thinking about my future, I always said, ‘I want to be a zookeeper,’ which really embarrassed me in school because people laughed at that,” she says. “But I really just loved animals and wanted to be doing some sort of outdoor science and started gravitating toward outdoor education while I was in college and at DU.”
Drawn to DU’s environmental science offerings, Ng transferred from Santa Clara University in California for her sophomore year. She minored in studio art and sustainability, which she saw as a natural—and necessary—addition to her environmental science major. She notes how tight-knit classrooms and personal connections with professors created an effective learning environment.
“They felt like friends that were on this learning exploration with all of us together,” she says of her professors. “The barrier in my classes between the student and the teacher was very low. It wasn’t a teacher on a pedestal disseminating information down to students so much as we’re all kind of in it together. I really loved that approach to education. That helped me learn in a more personal way.”
After graduating, Ng followed her passion for the outdoors, working as an interpretation ranger at California’s Lava Beds National Monument. But by the end of her first season, Ng knew she wanted more from her career.
“I did sort of feel like I wasn’t challenged enough, and I wasn’t putting enough effort toward a concerted change,” she says. “I was ready to really invest in something that was important to me, so I ended up moving back to Boston.”
In the Bay State, Ng dove headfirst into sustainable design and engineering, helping to craft energy-efficient homes and office buildings at two consulting firms. She found the challenge that she felt was missing during her time with the National Park Service.
“I was definitely swimming upstream and really challenged, which was amazing. I learned so much from that position. It really helped me home in more on what I wanted my career to look like,” she says. “I understood which aspects of that path worked for me and I was good at, and which aspects I didn’t really want involved in my life.”
By 2020, Ng was ready to take on her post at Boston Public Schools. Tasked with upgrading the 125 buildings that make up America’s oldest public school system, she faced a new set of challenges—and new motivations.
“I think the main driver for me coming [to BPS] was that I want to be doing this work, and I want the impact to go to my own community and the people that really need and deserve it,” she says.
From community meetings and events to food distribution, the school buildings see extensive use, but many lack clean drinking water and proper ventilation, Ng says. Making things more challenging: increasing labor and material costs, supply chain disruptions and a number of buildings entering their eighth decade of use.
For Ng, these challenges, no matter how formidable, are all in a day’s work. On the drawing boards for this year: new drinking fountains and bottle-filling stations. Coming up by decade’s end: electrified school buses to replace the fossil fuel-powered fleet, and updated heating and cooling systems. These moves, aimed at reducing carbon emissions and water usage, help BPS comply with Boston’s rigorous energy-efficiency and emissions requirements for municipal buildings, Ng explains.
The push for a Green New Deal for BPS is not just coming from city and school district officials. Instead, Ng says, it’s “coming loudly and strongly from all angles.”
“It’s incredible to see because sustainability is no longer a trend and something you need to be personally interested in to know and care about,” she says. “It is people shouting demands because it’s so pressing.”
Pressing enough that Ng has her hands full and plenty of work to do for her community—the challenge that she’s been searching for ever since she graduated.
Photo courtesy of Audrey Ng