Participants of VoS STEM Community Leaders Program Win $5000 for the Charity

Nawaal Ali Sharif and Arefa Tafawa, two senior participants of the VoS STEM Community Leaders Program now have a new title: winners of The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI)!

Developed by the Toskan Foundation, the YPI program connects students in grades 9 & 10 to social issues impacting their community and the local charities that combat them. Nawaal and Arefa, both being 10th grade students, were connected to the opportunity as a project for their Careers and Civics class where they were asked to research a local charity. For these two youth who had been involved with VoS for many years- having begun as participants in the Community STEM Clubs program and grown into STEM Community Leaders- the choice was an easy one.

Why did you choose to profile Visions of Science in your presentation?

Nawaal: We picked Visions because of our personal connection to it. We’ve been a part of the program for so long- we began almost 4 years ago! We knew we wanted to give back for everything it has done for us. That was our goal.

Arefa: When our teacher asked us to pick an organization of our choice, we both instantly thought of Visions. We didn't even use our script for the presentation, we just spoke from the heart! We wanted to advocate for it.

What impact has the program had on you?

Nawaal: Where to begin! My personality has changed drastically. I used to be very shy. Public speaking was my nightmare. My confidence has really shot up since being a part of the organization. I gave a speech at the Visionary Gala and it was probably the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever done, but I had a huge sense of accomplishment after. I’m so happy I didn’t back down!

Arefa: When I first came to Visions, I was a shy little potato! I didn’t talk a lot, and I hated public speaking so much it would make me shake and stutter. Becoming a STEM Community Leader has really given me the confidence boost I needed. I've transformed from a shy potato to a crispy french fry!

What does the organization's mandate [empowering youth from low-income communities] mean to you?

Nawaal: It shows that people actually care and want to see you succeed. Being a part of that is truly amazing. It's really cool to see all of these kids become interested in science so fast.

Arefa: We actually demonstrated this in our YPI presentation, where we showed a balloon inflating in two different environments. In the first, the balloon would inflate quickly and very large whereas in the second it would inflate slowly and smaller. We wanted to symbolize that kids growing up in low-income communities face barriers that impact their growth. These kids really need something like Visions to show them that they can actually do it.

Can you tell us about someone who inspires you?

Nawaal: Eugenia! She’s the mentor I really needed. If I wanted to be an athlete, I would look at Serena Williams. If I wanted to be an actress, I would look at Viola Davis. I never had anyone to look up to in the STEM world- until Eugenia! She’s really helping us reach our potential.

Arefa: In Eugenia’s TEDx Talk, she said that there weren’t many scientists of colour and it was a struggle. I admire her for not only getting her PhD but also starting something to help kids do what she did. She didn’t give up along the way and she has so much faith in us!

Stay tuned on our social media to learn more about what Nawaal and Arefa are up to this summer as STEM Community Leaders, as well as their STEM summer jobs as leaders in our summer learning camps!