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Meet the Diller Teen Awardee Providing Free STEM Education for Refugees in Chicago

Sabina London is a 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awardee. Shocked by how few other girls were in her high school Honors Chemistry class, she launched a youth-led non-profit STEM You Can!. Sabina turned one middle school and high school girls’ science camp into over twenty free STEM summer programs across fourteen states. STEM You Can! has developed a curriculum for schools that includes topics like space exploration and global warming, complete with fun science experiments. STEM You Can! operates within a network of over 100 student volunteers and is expected to train 1,000 volunteers and impact 10,000 girls in over twenty states by 2020. In recognition of her success, Sabina has been named a National Child Awareness Ambassador, a Jefferson Awards Media Partner Winner for public service, and a Jefferson Awards GlobeChanger. Most recently, she was awarded the Davis Project for Peace Prize.

What inspired you to apply for the Davis Projects for Peace Prize?

As a daughter of a refugee, and as a first generation Ukrainian American with a passion for science, it is particularly important to me to increase access to STEM education among refugee children since many are not proficient in science. When my dad entered the U.S., he was welcomed by a Jewish organization that gave him money, provided English classes, and helped him look for a job. Leading STEM programs through STEM You Can!, an organization I founded, is about giving back to my community like the refugee organization that helped my parents. What I love most about our programs is that we bring children from all backgrounds and identities to learn together.

What are your plans, now that you’ve been awarded?

With the Davis Projects for Peace, I will establish a STEM program for refugee students in Chicago, Illinois home to the largest Rohingya genocide refugee population. While STEM You Can! has previously had summer camps and after-school programs, they were not targeted for ESL students. I will be traveling to Chicago in May to train teachers in Passages Charter School on experiments ranging from engineering to neuroscience. Passages Charter School is run by Asian Human Services, a refugee agency in Chicago. Refugees come to this school from all over the world and speak 30 different languages. This School has no science curriculum and is run on donations to fund classroom supplies and activities.

During the summer months, I will create a STEM library and implement a science reading program for the school. This is my first time extending the curriculum for ESL students, and I hope to someday bring the ESL curriculum to other refugee students in the U.S.

Issues of inequality and environmental risk are on all of our minds these days. What role do you see women in STEM playing in ensuring a safe, fair future for all?

Women bring new perspectives and creative mindsets to solve world’s most pressing issues from climate change to disease eradication. There are many women scientists, engineers, mathematicians who are at the forefront of scientific discoveries and are true role models for young girls.

Looking back to when you were applying for the Diller Teen Awards, how has STEM You Can! changed since then?

When I was applying for the Diller Teen Awards, STEM You Can! had 20 free programs. I’m so proud that to date we have had 80+ programs in 15 states. Our volunteers have committed over 18,000 hours of service valued at $450,000. In addition, while our summer camps are continuing, I have been working on expanding our curriculum to schools across the U.S. with a new online platform.

How have you changed since then as a leader and changemaker?

For the first few years of STEM You Can!, I was focused on how to get other teens involved and start similar programs to reach more kids. While at Penn, I explored possibilities to take this organization to a new direction and have also done research to see if the science curriculum we created is enhancing students’ performance. I love incorporating new ideas into our curriculum and finding ways to bring our science experiments to kids nationwide.

I remember when I first started the organization that I was very shy to reach out for help. Getting support from the Diller Teen Awards has been amazing and invaluable to expand STEM You Can! The Diller Teen Family has been my support network for the past two years and has really helped to build my confidence as a leader.

As a young leader who’s studying and spearheading this organization, what challenges do you face that are unique to your situation? How do you deal with them?

It has definitely been challenging balancing leading STEM You Can! with college classes, research, and at the same time preparing for my post graduate plans. I now have an incredible team of college and high school student volunteers who are training new camp directors for the summer. I have been working on establishing new partnerships with teachers that I hope to expand into an online platform that pairs teacher and student volunteers. My main goal for the past few years has been to make STEM You Can! sustainable so the programs can continue reaching more students across the U.S.

Are there any words of wisdom or inspiration that you return to frequently? Do you have a motto that motivates you?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” — Winston Churchill

What is your advice to kids and teens out there who want to make a difference but don’t know how to get started?

I would say don’t be afraid to ask others for help and “dream big”. You never know where your ideas will take you until you try. I never imagined that one summer camp I ran would develop into an organization, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without all the amazing mentors who have helped me along the way.