Prepare to develop an inferiority complex. Timothy Hwang is not like every freshman at Princeton; well… in some ways he is. He’s obviously intelligent, hardworking, and is among the best and brightest of the United States. Regardless of these similarities, there are prominent differences that make Tim stand out in the crowd. At the age of fourteen, Tim Hwang began a non-profit, Operation Fly, which serves as a vanguard against poverty. His work in Operation Fly had him named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur 2009 of the year. Luckily we were able to steal some of his time to have a few questions answered!
HCP: How have you enjoyed your 1.5 semesters at Princeton University?
TH: It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. As cliche as this may sound, I honestly believe that I’ve learned more from my peers and classmates than anything I could have ever learned inside a lecture hall or classroom. That being said, the professors here are amazing and while the workload is intense, it certainly is rewarding. If you ask my parents though, they’ll probably tell you that I don’t focus enough on my academics, which is fine with me (haha).
HCP: What are you involved in on campus?
TH: My main involvement on campus organizations is to really just have fun and meet new people. So last semester I was involved in a lot of Asian-American cultural and advocacy organizations like CSA, AASA, and TASA. This semester I’ve been involved with the Whig-Clio society. Most of my involvement in extracurriculars has really been off campus though, through my work at the National Youth Association and Articulance Consulting Group – the social media/start-up consulting company that I run.
HCP: Could you tell us more about Operation Fly?
TH: Operation Fly was a non-profit that I started before the start of my freshman year year in high school. Our overarching mission was to help the underprivileged in the inner-city. To be honest, we didn’t think it was going to be big in the beginning. It began as just a couple of friends who wanted to help out in DC. We went down a couple times a month with food and clothing we bought ourselves and passed them out to the needy on the streets. Pretty soon, we had several kids coming down to DC with us – so much that we couldn’t handle it ourselves anymore. I made the decision to incorporate and the rest is history. Fundraising started coming, we started expanding rapidly, and we began programs such as our Sheets for Streets program which donated tens of thousands of blankets in inner-cities across the nation to combat hypothermia in the winter and the Packs for Backs program which donated backpacks with school supplies and toiletries to homeless children across the nation.
HCP: As we’ve heard, you were at one point a Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. What’d you learn from this experience?
TH: It was a really eye-opening experience. I had been involved with a lot of political organizations prior to winning a seat on the Board – student government, the Democratic party, etc. but I had never been on the “inside” before. When I came on the School Board, the Board was facing over a $200 budget shortfall out of a $2.3 Billion Operating Budget and a $1.2 Billion Capital Budget. Needless to say, I saw everything from mass protests to complex legal battles between government agencies fighting for money. Aside from all the technical things I learned about public education and government, I think the biggest thing I learned was the power of collective action. When you grab a group of people and organize for a cause you truly believe in, you have the potential to move decision makers and the community to action and really change the world.
HCP: You obviously have a lot of accomplishments. Which one makes you the most proud?
TH: I think my proudest moment came after working on the Obama campaign. The energy, the idealism, the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that came on Election Night after working months on the campaign was probably the proudest moment I felt in my life. To be honest, I was so exhausted, that on Election Night I actually fell asleep for a little bit before the final election was called ironically. I remember waking up to people jumping up and down, screaming and crying, etc.
HCP: What is the National Youth Association and what has been your involvement in NYA?
TH: The National Youth Association is a national membership organization that advocates for youth in government, in the corporate world, and in media. We run an extensive lobbying program in all 50 states and in Washington DC, watch out for youth on Wall Street, and even run our own media outlet (online news, podcasts/radio, youtube), NYA Media in order to show the youth-tailored, youth-perspective on the news. You could call us the “Youth Lobby of America” or the “AARP of Youth”. Additionally, we’re working on developing a bunch of services for our members like internship/job placement help, concerts, textbook exchanges, admissions help, and youth groupons and are in the process of working on something called “Project 26” – a campaign to register 2.6 Million 18-26 Year Olds on the 40th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment. I founded the organization in the summer of 2010 and currently serve as its President.
Photo Credit to Luke Cheng of the Daily Princetonian