Volunteers Turn Curiosity into Dreams

Ranjani Ganeshmurthy is a two-time Citizen Teacher and volunteer intern with Citizen Schools. 

Last fall, I took on the challenge of getting a group of middle school students interested in engineering. I signed up to teach an afternoon “apprenticeship” class about building solar cars with my husband who works at Cognizant, a partner of the nonprofit, Citizen Schools. This was our second time volunteering with Citizen Schools and we were a long way from being experts in the field of teaching.

solar cars1The curriculum required more effort and planning than we initially estimated and let me tell you, the energy from 17  boisterous students can do more than just bring the roof down! Figuring out  a way to channel all of that energy into productive work, while still inspiring the students, was going to be a challenge.  All the students had unique personalities--ranging from studious, calm and composed kids to fun-loving, out-of-the-box thinkers. The goal to not only teach the kids about solar energy and how to build the cars, but to inspire them to consider engineering as a future career goal, suddenly seemed even more daunting than I had originally thought.

In the first week, the students seemed way more enamored with the possibility of building “really cool cars" than with the actual process of engineering. One young man in particular comes to mind.  Moreyke had a lot of natural curiosity, but needed direction to channel it into a potential future career. Over the next few weeks, we learned a lot about his young inquisitive mind.

Moreyke wanted to get down and dirty with the construction of solar cars. He and his fellow "young engineers" wanted to be engaged from the start and were not the least bit intimidated with the wires, motors and axles. Using that excitement, we split the group up into teams and we saw that some of the very enthusiastic students like Moreyke quickly emerged  as the ringleaders. Over the next few weeks, gradually the other students started stepping up and taking responsibility for their cars, helping out their teammates in the process. Even the typically quiet ones in the class started coming out of their shells, following the example of the group leaders.

solarcars3It was casually during one of our test runs toward the end of the project that we asked Moreyke and his friends about their future plans and he proudly said, “I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up. I even know which college I am going to go to. My sister went to that college too. Maybe I will build a solar car for Ms.Babbe one day and I will build one for you too, Ms.G!"

I was beaming! Following his example, a couple of his friends exclaimed they wanted to become mechanical engineers too. It was a moment I will never forget!

That day I had a revelation. All children have incredible potential and they just need a constructive outlet to channel their curiosity. Moreyke started the class as an inquisitive middle schooler, knowing he wanted to do something important but without an idea of how to get there. Ten weeks later he was on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. To be able to have a student discover a dream and gain clarity is something that makes the experience worthwhile. Moreyke proved to be a natural leader who was able to lead his friends by example and we got to witness the way he blossomed from a child to a confident young man!

solar cars2At the beginning of the semester we thought getting the students excited about engineering would be a challenge. Thanks to these wonderful children and their natural curiosity, we learned never to underestimate a student's ability to learn. Through some hard work and engaging content, mechanical engineering became a fun and inspiring reality for these kids.

This fall, I encourage all professionals to take on the same challenge that my husband and I did. In just ten short weeks you can give young leaders like Moreyke something to look forward to in the future. Sign up to teach an apprenticeship today!