Tustin high school student wins first place in an international environmental science video contest

Bryan Nguyen
Bryan Nguyen, an Arnold O. Beckman High School senior, shoots a stop-motion animation video that won first place in the “World of 7 Billion” student video contest.
(Courtesy of Bryan Nguyen)

Little did 18-year-old Bryan Nguyen know that iPhone shots of a Lego mini-figure sitting on a toilet would win him a first-place $1,000 cash prize.

The AP environmental science assignment was to create a 60-second video that highlights a population growth issue and presents a solution. Topic categories included sustaining water systems, ensuring economic opportunities or improving climate resiliency.

Nguyen, an Arnold O. Beckman High School senior, chose to address sanitary water systems for the project.

It took him 12 hours to shoot and edit, using childhood Legos and his mom’s iPhone 7 to create a stop-motion animation video.

Through the video’s voiceover, Nguyen explains that out of 7 billion people worldwide, 2 billion don’t have access to safe sanitation, and it causes diseases that spread through waterways. He poses hydro-powered public sanitation units as the solution. The units, installed in well-populated areas, would allow people to safely dispose of bodily waste without fear of spreading diseases.

“There are a number of different waterborne pathogens, and it’s problematic in developing areas where they don’t have adequate sanitation,” said Tracy Scott, Nguyen’s teacher who has taught science for about 17 years. “As a whole, the number one killer of babies in the world is diarrhea from diseases like cholera. So the topic is pretty substantial and compelling.”

Each student in the class was required to complete a video, but the prompt comes from Population Education — a national nonprofit program providing teachers with curriculum resources focusing on human population issues.

Scott gave students extra credit if they submitted their video entry into the contest.

The program started in 1975 and launched the “World of 7 Billion” student video contest nine years ago. This year, Population Education received 2,593 video submissions from middle and high schools in 35 countries.

According to Pam Wasserman, the program’s vice president of education, 42 of the submissions came from Orange County alone. The previous O.C. winners came from Cypress High School in 2014 and Troy High School in 2013.

“The judges really liked that Bryan used some humor to try to get across a really important message,” Wasserman said.

I get excited about seeing their videos and hearing their ideas,” she added. “I feel like all the problems we have right now — we’re going to be looking to these kids to be the innovators. To see that they’re already thinking about these really challenging topics is heartening.”

Nguyen plans to donate his winnings to local animal shelters and follow the footsteps of his older sisters who are both studying public health at UC Irvine.

“I’m touched to hear that’s an area he’s interested in,” Scott said. “Public health is an area where we could use some kind and brilliant minds.”

Scott plans to incorporate the contest into her classroom again in the next school year.

The Population Education program staff has received requests from teachers to add health topics related to the current pandemic.

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