Making an Immediate Impact in the WorldRen ’13 Launches Water Monitoring Network in China

Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren ’13 is proving that Vassar alumnae/i can make a major impact in their field just a few years after they graduate.

After receiving her BA in Physics, Ren continued her studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the dual master's program in Environmental Engineering and Technology and Policy. While she was still at Vassar, Ren joined the China Youth Climate Action Network, and with the help of that organization and colleagues at MIT, she launched an initiative in her native China in 2014 that is addressing the country’s water pollution issues.

Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren ’13

Ren is founder and director of MyH2O, a water information platform that collects rural water and sanitation data through a crowd-based field network, with the ultimate goal of increasing access to rural data and more efficiently delivering solutions to the regions most in need. The organization has built a network of more than 30 university water-testing teams and collected over 2,000 water data points across 800 villages in 23 provinces throughout China. The group’s long-term goal is to make a safe and clean environment a possibility for everyone in China, through systematic management and community participation.

Ren says she takes particular inspiration from the idea of giving back as part of one’s lifelong journey. She is also a strong advocate of women becoming more visible in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and in environmental activism. To that end, she has joined Homeward Bound 2018 as one of four Chinese women in a year-long leadership journey ending in an expedition across Antarctica to advocate for the future of women in STEM. She is also an Echoing Green Fellow and was named to this year’s Forbes China 30 Under 30 in the science category.

On Sept. 12 during Vassar’s Fall Convocation, Ren received the AAVC (Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College) Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award, given in recognition of an alumna or alumnus who has graduated within the past 10 years and whose personal and professional achievements already have had a significant impact within their chosen field.

In presenting the award during Fall Convocation, AAVC President Steve Hankins cited Ren for her inspired leadership in addressing a vital environmental issue. “At a very young age,” Hankins said, “Charlene Ren has already proven herself to be both a change agent and a disrupter. She is truly an inspiration not only for all of our alumnae/i, but also for our current students.”