BASSP Alumni Feature: Keu ‘David’ Han

We’re continuing our features of our Bachelors of Applied Science in Sustainable Practices (BASSP) alumni. Here we interviewed Keu ‘David’ Han who graduated from the BASSP program in 2018. He is now the Education Manager at Friends of North Creek Forest (FNCF) and a Multicultural Outreach Associate with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS). 
[update: David has been a Project Manager at ECOSS since 2020, and is now a Project manager at EnviroIssues]

What are your main responsibilities in your roles? 
At Friends of North Creek Forest, some of the main things I do to meet the metrics of education grants that the organization receive are: work on going after new grants, recruit schools to participate in our education program, maintain ongoing relationships with teachers, recruit/train community volunteers and interns, build and manage the education team, provide regular updates about the education committee to the board, and manage and lead lessons in forest field trips.

Basically, for FNCF, I manage the whole education committee. I start by reaching out to all the local schools in the area and see who the best teacher to contact is. The program we’ve been doing has the students come out to the forest and start with teaching them basic forestry activities—plant ID, basic water testing, Bird ID, stewardship in the forest—because the basic science is the foundation, and water is important as the water from the forest feeds right into North Creek.

From here the lessons go back and forth to the forest and the classroom throughout the year, FNCF staff will also go to their classroom, and we help them come up with a research question in small teams and design their experiment and datasheet. Students often have a hard time—they’re not used to figuring out what they want to learn, but once they get the ball rolling, they’re great. We go from 3rd grade to 12th grade, and it’s amazing, even 3rd graders are capable of project design! They’ve always had lessons in the past just stating: “memorize this and I will test you on how well you can parrot it back.” So, it’s a good way to teach them new thinking skills. 

After the students design their experiment, they go to the forest and conduct their research. They gather data, and then in the classroom, we help them interpret their data and tweak their questions. FNCF staff doesn’t lead the students when they’re out in the forest, we just kind of follow along with them, and help if they get stuck—95% of the time is them doing it themselves. Finally, the students will share their findings with their peers in the form of PowerPoint presentations or posters, even the 3rd graders! We always try to be there for their presentation. It’s a year-long program with all the schools, and it’s free for them, they just have to cover their transportation. 

There’s a ton of behind the scenes things, of course, helping with interns, prep work, and building lessons. Once it’s the teaching day, it’s smooth sailing. That’s one of the main things I do at FNCF.

An easy way to summarize various projects I am assigned to at the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) is “pollution prevention assistance or PPA.”  ECOSS gets contracted by various cities in the greater Seattle area, including Bothell, to help businesses cut down on pollution and waste and become more sustainable.  I’m assigned to anything Korean language-related.  If something needs to be translated into Korean or if a business needs help and speaking Korean is easier, then I get called in. One of the main projects I’ve been working on is a project called “Zero Food Waste” in the City of Seattle. This project focuses on assisting business owners to be compliant with the single-use plastic ban, Styrofoam container ban, and composting laws. I go in and help businesses identify and correct issues that would have ended up in a fine. For example, one of the business owners had no idea what compostable utensils were or where to get them. I assisted them by showing samples and pictures of what they needed to purchase, as well as providing a list of stores they can purchase them from. I also share best practices such as keeping single-use utensils and straws hidden from the customer’s view. This helps prevent waste because the customers will not be able to grab unnecessary items out of habit.  Most of these businesses for this project are restaurants, but it can be anything that generates food waste such as cafes and delis. It’s important to help these business owners because of the language challenges as it helps in a variety of ways, including figuring out the best methods for cost-effectiveness for them; we also do a quick waste audit, and we provide staff training on waste management. Composting in Seattle is huge—it’s illegal for businesses to throw food waste and compostable papers into landfill dumpsters—so they have to have compost pickup service or self-haul the compost waste to a transfer station. Adding compost pickup service can seem like a hassle at first but it is cheaper than landfill pick up service. Since most of the waste produced by restaurants are compostable, they will save money by adding compost pickup service while reducing the size of the landfill dumpster and pickup frequency. The program is completely free and voluntary for businesses. They can choose not to accept the service if they determine it is not worth their time. To date, however, there has not been any businesses that turned down our service. At the end of it, they’re always very thankful because they get to see the benefits and learn a lot before they are hit with fines. 

Did classes and projects in the BASSP program help you with your current work positions?
All of them played a role, but a lot of professor John VanLeer’s classes on waste stream topics helped with my position at ECOSS. His classes helped me jump right in and start working. Sometimes I even knew more than the people that were training me.  Biodiversity (BIOL320) taught by professor Sadie Rosenthal was helpful for my position at FNCF. It gave me a great foundation to build upon. She was such a great professor that made biology enjoyable. You can tell she spent a lot of time prepping for our class. I used to hate biology but by the end of the class I ended up loving it. All the training related to stormwater management, forestry, pollution prevention throughout the program was great!

Networking was so important to find my jobs. People often think that they don’t have time to go to networking events or volunteer events. The truth is, you have to be intentional and make time. I found ways to attend the different events and speak with professionals working in the field and volunteer while I was a full-time undergrad and graduate student. On top of being a full-time student, I also had a family to take care of and was working 20-40 hours a week. I ended up sleeping less than 6 hours a day for most of the week to make this possible. I was very tired during those days but in the end, I was able to meet many great people and was able to land a job that I love. Cascadia’s BASSP program is great and you learn a ton, but because Cascadia’s not that big or well-known enough for companies to come after graduates yet, networking matters. Employers need to know that you possess the skills and the knowledge necessary to contribute to their team. They can’t hire you if they don’t know that you exist.

Tell us about your master’s program. What sort of topics did it focus on, and how did the focus connect to the BASSP program, if at all?
Antioch has a master’s program in education called Urban Environmental Education. It is focused on social and racial equity issues. The urban environment as a name isn’t focused on the ‘green and trees’ side, but more on the urban society and management. In BASSP terms, it’s like Soraya’s Social Perspectives class (SUPR325) expanded into a master’s program. 

Do you feel you’re making an impact?
Yes, definitely. Working with FNCF, I see how students transform and think differently. They approach education differently. This is true for the teachers as well. Many teachers are a bit skeptical of the student-led education model in the beginning but they see how well it works and is encouraged by it. Through my work with ECOSS, I found that most business owners care about their impact on the environment but they always thought it was cost-prohibitive to make certain changes. I help them make the necessary changes while helping them to offset the cost increase through best practices. They often end up saving money as a result of certain changes.

Did anything surprise you working for this type of organization?
The determination and work ethic of the people involved at FNCF surprised me. Every single one of them was there for something bigger than themselves. They never looked for personal recognition and always went out of their way to support the organization’s mission and each other.

Anything to add?
One thing that helped me a lot was the capstone I did: the campus sustainability tour.  Designing and leading that project, building the website, the outreach, and managing the team helped me so much. The experience trained me in project management and helped me grow professionally. That includes everything from the research required behind the scenes and having to reach out to random professors on campus to get information, and that gave me the confidence to do the work I do now with FNCF. I never expected this when I was working on this project, but it seems like the capstone I worked on ended up being more beneficial for me than the school.

I would also like to mention professor Abigail Lynam. She had a big impact on my personal and professional development. I learned so much about myself as a result of her guidance. I am still unpacking things that I learned from her to this day. She even guided me to my master’s program. 

Thank you, David, for speaking with us today!

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