Born in California but a loyal Minnesotan since he was six months old, Akia Vang, Fresh Energy’s new Capitol Pathways Intern, has spent most of his life in Minneapolis. Akia attended Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis, and then went straight to the University of Minnesota for his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management (EPSM), which he completed in December of 2021.
The Minnesota Capitol Pathways program works to make our government truly representative of our communities, connecting young leaders of color with established policy leaders. Fresh Energy has hosted interns every legislative session since the program’s inception six years ago. Akia is excited to work with Fresh Energy’s Public Affairs team, and particularly with Lead Director, Public Affairs Justin Fay and Senior Associate, Public Affairs Anna Johnson.
“In my ESPM program, I focused more on water resources and gained lots of field experience in water resources and water management,” Akia says. “I worked at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last year and saw more how interconnected everything in the environmental field is. I’m excited to make this move from water to broader climate and clean energy work, especially to learn more about the nexus of climate, energy, and environment, since that has an expansive impact on people and communities,” he says.
Akia has recently been accepted into the Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and he hopes to use all the knowledge, experience, and relationships he gains from his time interning with Fresh Energy to work on sustainability and climate in the future.
“In my role as Capitol Pathways Intern this session, I’ll mainly be following Minnesota’s legislative energy committees,” Akia notes. For our state, the Minnesota House of Representatives convenes the Climate and Energy Finance and Policy committee, and the Minnesota State Senate convenes the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee. Akia says his role will be to monitor and engage with the activities of both committees, continuing the spirit of nonpartisan advocacy that is central to Fresh Energy’s mission and vision. “I’ll be tracking bills that Fresh Energy is working on, keeping an eye on support for them from Minnesota’s elected leaders, and helping ensure that more pieces of legislation focused on climate and clean energy move forward in the legislature and can then benefit the lives of Minnesotans throughout the state.”
Akia says he hopes to use what he learns throughout this process to make changes at the local level as he moves forward in his academic and professional careers. “I have lots of field work experience with data collection, and now I’m moving more into the policy realm. Policy affects how the science is done on the ground too—because it loops back around to influence the community. Learning more about policy and being able to use the knowledge that I’ve gained is key to making changes at the local level so that I can push for environmental protection efforts that benefit our communities.”
Protecting our state’s communities is important to Akia, especially as someone who loves the outdoors. When asked what he enjoys most about Minnesota, Akia says, “I feel like we really make the best of our summers! I love going outside and enjoying our natural lands after a long day, from walking and exploring to enjoying the scenery to playing tennis, flag football, and frisbee.” Akia says he’s especially excited for nicer weather again since it means family picnics with relatives he hasn’t seen in a while. He adds, “Living in Minneapolis means visiting lots of parks and lakes in the summer, and, in the winter, doing some ice fishing—I’m gaining more appreciation for winter angling as a change of pace from summer fishing. But really, I just love the outdoors. Every season has something.” With a smile on his face, he jokingly adds, “But of course it’s a little colder in the winter!”