Colin Powell School
Senior Aryanna Khan’s Journey from the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis to the COP26 in Glasgow
As a child growing up in Bangladesh, Aryanna Khan often had to miss weeks of school due to flooding exacerbated by the climate crisis. With an intuitive understanding that climate change is both an environmental and a social issue, she chose to study both biology and sociology at CCNY. She was selected to join the inaugural cohort of Climate Policy Fellows at the Colin Powell School and recently participated in the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, where she was present both inside the summit and outside in the protests calling for a bolder response to the climate crisis. She encourages students not to allow self-defeating doubts to discourage them from pursuing opportunities such as fellowships and internships.
Please tell us about your background and how you became an environmental advocate.
I moved to New York City nine years ago from one of the most vulnerable and impacted countries of climate change: Bangladesh. Due to rising sea levels, Bangladesh endured annual, erratic floods, causing me to miss school for weeks at a time. For my little brother, who was born prematurely with a heart defect, the doctors said the air outside was too dangerous for him to breathe. In 2012, when subways in New York City got boarded up for Hurricane Sandy, I was reminded nostalgically of missing school back in Bangladesh. Until I joined a non-profit organization called Global Kids in 2014, I did not have the language to process how climate change affected everything, from my education to my little brother’s health. Shortly after, I did a fellowship with another organization called Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE), which snowballed into all the environmental and advocacy work I do now.
What brought you to City College?
City College was an affordable haven with strong STEM programs and a revolutionary history that spoke to the kind of community I was hoping to cultivate during my time in college. It was my top “close-to-home” school as I was already residing in New York City with my family.
What led you to choose to focus on environmental advocacy?
After processing my childhood in both Bangladesh and New York, I knew with certainty that I wanted to work at the intersections of science, environmental inequity, and climate change. This led to me pursuing a Bachelor of Science (B.S) in Biology with a minor in Sociology. While strengthening my scientific background, I also applied to the Climate Policy Fellowship and Colin Powell Fellowship to learn about policy solutions to our overwhelming climate problems.
How have CCNY and the Colin Powell School helped you on your academic and career path?
City College has allowed me to grow strong scientific roots while the Colin Powell School has facilitated a formal education in policy. During my time here, I have been able to intern at a climate philanthropy organization called ClimateWorks, get support for my work at a local community garden, and continue the work that I was already doing with Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE). As an undergraduate senior right now, all the support I have received at City College and the Colin Powell School has allowed me to feel prepared enough to apply to PhD programs in Earth & Environmental Sciences.
Please share a significant memory or accomplishment from your time at CCNY.
Recently, I attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland— with Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE). It was my first time at a Conference of the Parties (COP), which was definitely a bittersweet experience (here are some of my reflections). While at COP, I was also featured on The View for my organizing work around climate change.
Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?
Upon entering City College, I was unaware of the fellowships being offered by the Colin Powell School; in fact, I waited to apply to the Climate Policy Fellowship until a few hours before its deadline because I was sure I would not get in with my GPA at the time. But I want to emphasize to my past self — as well as all current and future students — the importance of simply saying yes to opportunities, even amidst our self-doubt. If I had actually convinced myself to miss the deadline for the Climate Policy Fellowship, I would not have been a part of its incredible, inaugural cohort!