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EnvironmentStudents from Milpitas High School win Silicon Valley Clean Energy film competition

Students from Milpitas High School win Silicon Valley Clean Energy film competition

Three students who graduated from Milpitas High School this past June have won a film competition hosted by Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE).

Michelle Ngo, Daphne Tran, and Philip Yang all found out about the competition during their senior year and decided to join forces.

Together they produced a four-minute film called “Within our Immediate Reach,” which features two interlocking segments that utilize a mix of spoken word, text, and visuals from locations in San Jose and Milpitas.

“The film was about what it means to prepare for climate change, and what it means for climate resilience,” said Ngo. “And it’s about how climate change connects to community.”

In its inaugural year, the EmPower Silicon Valley Short Film Competition provided high school students with the opportunity to create film projects based around combating climate change. As a not-for-profit agency, SVCE uses renewable and carbon-free sources to provide clean electricity to residents and commercial customers throughout Santa Clara County. This competition was part of an SVCE educational initiative to involve youth in the community.

“Within our Immediate Reach” was one of the contest’s four winning films. Each filmmaking team received a $3,000 cash scholarship award.

Ngo, Tran, and Yang initially met in an Environmental Science class during their junior year.

“I wanted to be involved because of the issues in our society caused by large corporations; it was a way to express our feelings,” said Yang. “And it was a way to get over Covid separation.”

Their Environmental Science class was taught by Glen Barrett, who played an instrumental role in sparking the trio’s interest in the topic.

“We all really loved the subject. We’re really passionate about it. Since that class, we had been thinking about doing a project or a video on it…” said Tran.

All three spoke of Barrett’s high energy, passion, and talent for being able to connect with students. They learned a great deal about the interconnectedness of all things, individual responsibility, the roles large corporations play in climate change, and taking care of the planet as a whole.

“While we were taking that class, we were thinking: Why isn’t everyone taking this class?” said Ngo.

The three friends had planned to shoot the film over the course of a few months during their senior year, but it didn’t happen.

But after they graduated from MHS on June 4, they wasted no time. The deadline to enter the competition was June 14, so they had to get moving. They spent one straight week filming in hilly locations across San Jose and Milpitas. Yang, employing knowledge from his experience studying photography, did the actual filming.

“To be honest, the experience changed me. I was able to take away the importance of planning…getting that foundation down first,” said Ngo. “It was a little chaotic.”

After the shoot was over, Yang worked on the audio while Ngo and Tran did the motion graphics and editing. Soon they had a finished product, and were able to make SVCE’s June 14 deadline.

In the Fall, Tran will be going to UC Davis, where she’ll major in Communications; Yang will be attending CSU Monterey Bay to major in Marine Science; and Ngo will be venturing to UC Berkeley to major in Sustainable and Environmental Design.

To watch the trio’s award-winning short film, go here: https://www.svcleanenergy.org/empower-sv/  

Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro is the winner of a 2022 Golden Quill Award for her Education journalism. She works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works mostly with nonprofit organizations and educational entities to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also the author of “Fierce Woman: Wake up your Badass Self” and “Magic Within: Womb-Centered Wisdom to Realize the Power of Your Sacred Feminine Self.” Her YouTube channel features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief.


  1. Thanks for this article about some great AP Environmental Science students.
    Side note: My name is Glen Barrett, not Greg. 🙂


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