Meeting the Moment

Students Tackle Timely Issues in 2020-2021 Video Contest

June 2021

This marks the 10th year of our popular World of 7 Billion Student Video Contest, which engages middle and high school students in a range of environmental and social issues related to human population pressures.

For the 3,000+ students from 44 countries (including 49 U.S. states and territories) who took part in the 2020–2021 contest, there were unique challenges posed by COVID-19, including working remotely on their video projects with fewer opportunities for collaboration with classmates.

In addition to the pandemic, events exposing racial injustices dominated headlines in the U.S. and abroad in 2020. For this year’s video topics (Promoting Environmental Justice, Strengthening Global Health, and Re-Imagining Industrial Systems), we wanted to meet the moment and give students a chance to explore the issues of the day in more depth, especially how they relate to Population Connection’s work.

While these are challenging topics, students’ productions showed their research, thoughtfulness, and hope. Their proposed solutions ask society to rethink our approach to everything from agriculture and consumerism to reproductive health and infectious disease testing.

Many of the submissions come out of classroom assignments. Each September, the World of 7 Billion website debuts background readings for students on the new contest topics, plus filmmaking tips and resources, a graphic organizer, judging rubric, and related lesson plans for teachers. This school year, PopEd staff even visited classrooms remotely to answer student questions as they prepared their videos.

A panel of 60 judges, including educators, filmmakers, and policy experts, selected the winners from a pool of finalists determined by our Population Education staff. High school winners received $1,200 for first place, $600 for second place, and $300 for honorable mention. Middle school winners received $600 for first place and $300 for second place.

You can view this year’s winning entries, along with students’ photos and bios, on our contest website:


Promoting Environmental Justice

1st Place, High School

“Food (Deserts) for Thought”
Rana Duan
Grade 12, Dulles High School
Sugar Land, Texas

Rana’s first place finish this year comes after winning honorable mentions in the 2019 and 2020 contests for videos on climate resiliency and biodiversity threats. This year, she used colorful animation to explain the problem of food deserts in underserved communities and to offer solutions for bringing healthy food options to people everywhere. This fall, Rana will be entering The University of Texas at Austin, where she plans to study economics and prepare for a career in environmental policy.

2nd Place, High School

“Erase the Redline”
Tian Hsu
Grade 12, St. Paul’s Girls’ School
London, United Kingdom

Though she lives across the pond, Tian was inspired to learn more about structural racism in the United States, especially after the events of 2020. This led her to research the practice of redlining and to connect unfair residential zoning to health and climate issues. Tian has produced films for the U.K.’s 2020 Youth Climate Summit and for her school’s environmental assemblies. She hopes to pursue a career in sustainable architecture.

1st Place, Middle School

“A Solution to E-Waste”
Henry Zitoun
Grade 7, Shorewood Intermediate School
Shorewood, Wisconsin

A first-time filmmaker, Henry focused on the hazardous working conditions at e-waste dumping sites, especially at a notorious one in Ghana. “I discovered that the amount of devices outnumbered the global population and began to wonder what happens to all these devices when people are done with them.” His video attempts to answer the questions he had and also proposes what consumers can do to be better stewards of the environment and communities around the globe.

2nd Place, Middle School

“Environmental Racism”
Stephanie Akinfolarin
Grade 8, Westerly School
Long Beach, California

Stephanie used animation software to explain the connections between racial and environmental injustices and to propose solutions to create more healthful living conditions in historically underserved communities, including designating more green spaces and introducing more restrictions on the placement of polluting industries.


Strengthening Global Health

1st Place, High School

“Wonder Women”
Alaina Smith

Grade 12, Mt. Lebanon High School
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Alaina channeled her passion for women’s health and advocacy into a winning video on maternal mortality rates around the world and their connection to high fertility and other population trends. She first learned about population issues in her AP Environmental Science class and is especially interested in advocating for women’s empowerment and family planning access. She’ll be entering The College of William and Mary this fall and hopes to pursue a career in public health policy.

2nd Place, High School

“The Importance of Maternal Health”
Amrita Guha
Grade 9, Alsion Middle/High Montessori School
Fremont, California

Amrita mastered claymation (stop-motion animation using original clay creations) to raise awareness about women’s reproductive health issues and their connection to population trends, something she first learned about in her AP Environmental Science class. Her work on social justice includes her local community—she recently co-founded a nonprofit organization to combat anti-Asian hate.

1st Place, Middle School

“Fossil Fuels and Our Health”
Kayla Brezenski
Grade 8, Detroit Country Day School
Beverly Hills, Michigan

Through her white-board drawings, Kayla explains how pollution from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to a host of health problems (cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, and more). She wanted to share her research because “people are aware of [fossil fuels’] effect on the earth, but not on our health.” Her winning video advocates for a more rapid change to renewable energy sources.

2nd Place, Middle School

“Amping Up Testing”
Kennedy Merkel

Grade 7, Shorewood Intermediate School
Shorewood, Wisconsin

The pandemic was very much on Kennedy’s mind last fall when she thought of a way to increase testing for COVID-19 through the U.S. mail. Her teacher, Sarah Kopplin, has long been assigning the World of 7 Billion contest to her middle school students and helps them work on different parts of the assignment over a period of months.


Re-Imagining Industrial Systems

1st Place, High School

“Carbon Tagging—a Solution to Consumer-Fueled Carbon Emissions”
Aidan Hurlock
Grade 9, Barrington High School
Barrington, Rhode Island

Judges were impressed with Aidan’s idea of labeling everyday consumer goods with environmental impact data. By putting a label on a product, he figured, “people can compare the CO2 emissions and may be more likely to choose items that have a lesser impact.” Aidan’s interest in filmmaking and the environment dates to fifth grade, when he started his own YouTube channel and took Jane Goodall’s MasterClass on conservation.

2nd Place, High School

“What Nobody Tells You About Your Favorite Products”
Luana Hasson de Lima Escamilla
Grade 12, Colégio FAAP
São Paulo, Brazil

Luana’s video considers the social justice issues related to mica, a common ingredient in cosmetics that is often mined by child laborers. “Many young people feel that they cannot do anything to change the world, but just talking about issues and giving them visibility already creates a great impact on our community.” Last fall, Luana started a non-profit, Fluxo Sem Tabu, which provides sanitary napkins to those in need, breaking the menstruation taboo.

1st Place, Middle School

“Managing E-Waste”
Arnav Bali
Grade 7, Central Middle School
Edgewater, Maryland

Arnav’s hobby of fixing and rebuilding electronics led him to focus his winning video on e-waste. He was surprised to find out “how much e-waste goes to poor countries. I don’t think it is fair that the waste goes there when many of those countries are already struggling.” He’s won prior awards for videos focusing on the endangered bee population and on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Arnav recently purchased a green screen and may use his winnings for tools to help his filmmaking.

2nd Place, Middle School

“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)”
Emalee Leishman
Grade 8, Idaho Arts Charter School
Nampa, Idaho

Emalee advocates for more sustainable and humane farming practices. Her video deftly explains the environmental impacts of CAFOs, the source of most of the meat we buy in grocery stores. This is her second year participating in the World of 7 Billion contest and her first year as a winner.

Honorable Mentions

High School

“Stop the Mistreatment of Indigenous People”
Anna Paradise
Harborfield High School
Greenlawn, New York

“Climate Migrants”
Valerie Xiong
Piedmont High School
Piedmont, California

“Polluted to Pure”
Emmy Yang
Eastside Preparatory School
Kirkland, Washington

“Watching the World”
Grace Kaneshiro
International School of Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana

“Lab-Grown Meat—Future Proteins”
Jensen Coonradt
Oswego East High School
Oswego, Illinois

“Digging Earth’s Grave”
Crystalia Evelyn Liaw
Sinarmas World Academy
Tangerang, Indonesia


One thought on “Meeting the Moment

  1. All these wonderful young people are wise beyond their years. It is their future and they are connected. We must deep six that Gag Rule so that every woman and girl can be allowed reproductive choice and only have the number of children that they can afford to raise. Perhaps some will opt to remain childless and that is OK.

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