CT Spotlight

Building a Community of Engineers

Citizen Teachers Ever since he was young, Sanjay Kadiwala, an engineer with Motorola in Chicago, has understood the value of service. In the fourth grade, he received the Justin Wynn Award and membership into their Leadership Academy, a selective program that gives elementary and middle school students in his hometown of Evanston, Illinois opportunities to volunteer in local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Now, years later, he is still giving back to his community as a volunteer Citizen Teacher. Each week, he shares his expertise, passion, and energy with Chicago-area middle school students to excite them about engineering.

Sanjay has always been passionate about education. A few years ago, he worked as a substitute and high school teacher.  While he eventually returned to work full time as an engineer, he still missed mentoring students.

“For me, growing up, many people have made me into the person that I am without concerns for their own financial gain. I want someone else to have access to those opportunities” he said.

He found this opportunity three years ago after hearing a presentation from Citizen Schools Illinois staff members.

“I was attracted to Citizen Schools because of the chance to be in a classroom setting again, the age- group, the chance for cultural enrichment opportunities, and combining engineering with teaching!”

It turned out that he loves working with middle schoolers so much that he came back to teach four apprenticeships in a row, and he’s even winning awards for it!  Four apprenticeships, three schools, 75 students later, he was awarded a Silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award, an honor awarded to American citizens recognizing them for their volunteer hours.  In that time he has taught everything from engineering design to yoga. This fall, he’s teaching students how to build solar cars at Chicago’s Monroe Elementary School.

Join us in congratulating Sanjay as Citizen Teacher of the month.


You mentioned one of the aspects of our program that appealed to you was the “age group?” What do you enjoy about working with middle school students on particular?

“Being in a STEM career, it’s rewarding to go into an elementary school and demo “cool things”, but the students aren’t old enough to understand the science behind everything. In my time as a high school teacher, I found that most people had made up their minds and were in the mindset of only taking a class because they had to, not because they wanted to be there. The middle school age group is extremely open in comparison. They’re old enough to understand some technical detail but not so old that they’ve made up their minds about the world and are still open to having adult mentors and are curious about world.”

What is your apprenticeship for this semester?

“This fall’s apprenticeship is Solar Car Showdown and it’s by far the most technical apprenticeship I’ve taught so far. Two of my four apprenticeships have been for the Chicago Maker Challenge, and those involved talking about ideas or coming up with technical solutions/apps that would solve an accessibility or community problem. However, the end product was usually just a storyboard explaining the app. This semester, students are actually working hands-on, in teams, building solar cars and are part of the design process.”

 What do you hope the students get out of the class?

“Just the fact that they’re building, drawing conclusions, working with a team is the core of STEM. They’re answering every day questions I face in my work as an engineer: Can you apply what you learn and then make changes or improvements or think creatively?”

 Describe a moment of discovery you witnessed with a student.

“One of our solar car teams was having an issue because their car wasn’t traveling straight and they were trying to figure out why that was happening. One of the students asked “how can I fix this and tell what’s going on?” and another using a ruler to see if one of the axels is straight compared to the other one. If they’re not aligned, it won’t go straight. They used tools available to solve the problem. While the car still wasn’t perfect, it was better. It was really cool to see a group of students work through problems, and figure out resources. That’s not really taught in a book. Sometimes you have to test and fail and then try something else. To see them work through that  at such a young age is cool. It’s rewarding that they have this experience early on that maybe they can utilize in their classes at school and maybe even outside of school.”

Describe any challenges you had as a volunteer teacher, and how you overcame them.

“In the first three schools where I taught, students really had a first line of defense towards adults in general, ‘who knows if you’ll be here next week?’ The repetition of seeing an adult, someone they could rely on week after week brought down that barrier."

Do you have any advice for anybody who wants to volunteer with middle school students?

“Frequency of seeing them is important, but also trying to explain things on their level. Working in STEM, you get so used to your career and interacting with adults, but it’s important to recognize that these are students. You also want to try to reach out to them individually because there are a lot of bright kids who aren’t getting the challenge or enrichment that they could with a knowledgeable mentor.”

Each apprenticeship culminates in a WOW! Event where students show off what they learned. At this fall’s WOW!, three of Sanjay’s students won the “Apprenticeship Mastery Award” at the Citizen Schools Illinois regional WOW! Event for the car they built.

Motorola Mobility is Citizen Schools Illinois’ largest corporate partner. Since 2013, more than 50 Motorola Mobility employees have given over 6,000 hours to impact over 170 middle school students in Chicago Public Schools. Citizen Schools is excited to continue our partnership with Motorola Mobility for the 2015-2016 school year.


The Motorola Mobility Foundation (MMF) is the philanthropic arm of Motorola Mobility LLC, a Lenovo company.  Motorola Mobility Foundation seeks to catalyze the innovative use of technology to improve lives and communities. We do this by leveraging employee expertise and talent, providing funding, and partnering with nonprofits, learning institutions, startups, government, corporate and civic organizations.