Megan Chen: Creating ‘Tangible Solutions’
Megan Chen, 17, uses her writing, art, and gardening passions to solve problems.
She is the founder and director of The Urban Garden Initiative (TUGI), a non-profit aimed at spreading environmental and sustainability education through urban gardening. She’s also the author and co-illustrator of Finding Tiger, a self-published picture book about implicit bias and stereotyping, and she is an advocate for education reform.
“I think my main motivation is creating and designing solutions to problems that I truly care a lot about,” says the Newark Charter School student. “Instead of simply sitting there and hearing about all of these huge issues in the world today and either not doing anything at all or just sharing what happened in social media, I want to create impact that can leave tangible solutions. If you have the power and capability to create a difference, then you should utilize that power to help others.”
When Chen heard about food deserts—urban communities where it is difficult to find affordable or fresh food—she set up TUGI to teach inner-city kids about sustainability. She has taught more than 500 youths in New Castle County how to start container gardens from seed. She says that besides providing access to fresh, affordable food, TUGI teaches pre- through middle-school students about the impacts of climate change. She hopes that the younger generations will find their own solutions to create a greener, better, safer planet.
Chen’s struggle with culture identity as an Asian American inspired Finding Tiger. Published in 2018, the book, for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, focuses on a young tiger who overcomes a self-identity crisis. Chen has read her book in dozens of schools in New Castle County and created a curriculum that encourages interactive discussions about the effects of stereotyping and ways to solve the problem. More than 50 schools throughout New Castle County have incorporated her curriculum.
Her advocacy for education reform comes from her experiences with Delaware’s Dual School and New York’s GripTape. The organizations provide resources and mentors to help teens turn project ideas into reality. GripTape gave Chen $500 to help her publish Finding Tiger. The non-profits are part of an effort to transform America’s education system to better fit the needs of students by having them work on projects they are passionate about.
“Through these experiences,” Chen says, “I’ve come to realize there’s a really big disparity between normal, public high school and programs like Dual School and GripTape. I think a balance is needed between what students learn in the classroom and what they learn by working on projects that help them feel fulfilled.”
Zachary Jones, executive director of the Dual School, says Chen has shown students in the program what’s possible. “Her story and progress is impressive. She’s the one who wrote a book and made her project tangible, opening up possibilities in people’s minds.”
Chen, who speaks English, Chinese and French, has received a number of recognitions and awards, including the National NFPW Gold Medal for Environmental Journalism. She writes for several online magazines about the environment, gun control, women’s rights and other social issues.
She plans to pursue a degree in public policy or social entrepreneurship.
For more information about TUGI, visit theurbangardeninitiative.org/about.