Honors students impact community by leading after-school club

· 9 min read

Honors students impact community by leading after-school club

Spencer Knight gets three students and their rubber-band powered cars lined up for a race at Riley Elementary School in Lincoln.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Spencer Knight gets three students and their rubber-band powered cars lined up for a race at Riley Elementary School in Lincoln.

Throughout the school year, Nebraska Honors students host semester-long after-school clubs in the community. Through the program, undergraduate students get paid, experiential learning opportunities that help them develop specific skills while meeting a community need.

University Communication and Marketing talked with Spencer Knight, a civil engineering major from North Liberty, Iowa, and Rohan Tatineni, a biochemistry major from Winter Haven, Florida, who lead a STEM club at a local elementary school.

How would you explain Honors Afterschool Clubs to someone that’s never heard of it?

Knight: Honors Afterschool Clubs are part of a program at UNL that promotes experiential learning at the university. Essentially, students are assigned to an elementary, middle or high school near Lincoln and are given the opportunity to lead a club about any topic they are passionate about.

Tatineni: Afterschool Clubs are an amazing way to demonstrate your interest in a particular topic and get to share that joy with others. Through the Honors Program, anyone can get matched with an underserved school site near UNL. They can then lead a club over virtually any topic they want for a semester with a partner.

Talk about why you decided to apply to Nebraska, and specifically go into STEM.

Knight: During my college search, it often felt as though the institutions I researched had a “you need us” attitude. But with Nebraska, I got the sense that they wanted me. When I came for a college visit, everyone I interacted with was incredibly kind, answered all my questions, and encouraged me to seek out different opportunities on campus if I chose to attend. I chose to be a STEM major because I want to make a difference in the world, and to actively work to improve the lives of others.

Tatineni: I applied to UNL because I was already quite familiar with Lincoln as I have been here since I was in kindergarten. My parents are already here, and the tuition was low compared to other out-of-state schools. In addition, I knew that UNL had a solid biochemistry program, so coming here was an easy decision. I have always been fascinated by science growing up, especially the weather and biology. This interest has led me to challenge myself further through difficult courses in high school and even major in biochemistry.

Rohan Tatineni helps a student build her rubber-band powered car.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Rohan Tatineni helps a student build her rubber-band powered car.

What is your favorite part about participating in Honors Afterschool Clubs?

Knight: So far, my favorite part about our STEM Club is seeing the awe on students’ faces when we demonstrate a concept in our activities. I love seeing their faces light up when they see something cool happen.

Tatineni: My favorite part about participating Honors Afterschool Clubs is the planning and execution of the lesson plans. Having so much flexibility with what we can teach our students allows for so much fun while planning. In addition, leading a lesson plan can be scary, but it is so rewarding. Allowing kids to experience the fun of STEM, while hopefully sparking a lifelong interest in STEM makes participating in Honors Afterschool Club worth it. For instance, seeing how excited our students get when they participate in an experiment such as Pepsi and mentos or walking water makes it all worth it.

Explain the process you went through to create the curriculum for your club.

Knight: During the first few weeks of the semester, Rohan and I met up to discuss what we wanted from the club and what sort of activities we would want to do. Rohan was interested in teaching science, but I was excited to teach engineering topics. We decided to split our club up into two halves. First, we would focus on science, then after fall break, we would switch over to engineering. After about a week of brainstorming, we narrowed our list down to 10 activities, then put them in an order that made sense with our club schedule. Lastly, we prepare a detailed lesson plan for each individual club session in the week beforehand.

Tatineni: Spencer and I were assigned as partners. We both had different ideas for our club that were quite similar. We discussed possible plans for the clubs and decided to focus on a STEM club with two distinct halves in our club. Science would be during the first half and would consist of various fun experiments that apply various science concepts. We would also focus on the scientific method and thinking like a scientist. The second half would be over engineering and utilize a Makerspace kit with fun activities like rubber band racers. After making this plan, we came up with experiments for the science part and Makerspace activities for the engineering part. Then we focused on creating a PowerPoint to aid in teaching our students concepts behind the experiment or activity.

A doughnut squishy decorates a rubber-band powered car.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
A doughnut squishy decorates a rubber-band powered car.

What impact do you hope to make on the students you’re working with?

Knight: Young students don’t often get the opportunity to learn about engineering topics in their classrooms. I hope to teach our club members about some engineering-specific topics and show them how much fun engineering can be.

Tatineni: I hope our students get to see how fascinating STEM can be. I understand that they will likely not remember the finer details of each lesson; however, I hope that they can experience the joys of science and use that to develop a lifelong love for STEM.

What or who inspires or motivates you?

Knight: There are a lot of things that motivate me to do my best in every aspect of my life, but the common denominator has always been my parents. Ever since I was young, they have encouraged me to work hard, give nothing but my best, and try new things. I look up to them, and I know that if I continue to work hard, it will pay off in the long run.

Tatineni: My parents have instilled a hard-working mentality that keeps me going. In addition, my family’s support has always been vital in pushing me forward. Also, the ability to make an impact keeps me going as I know that through hard work, I can make a difference.

Who has impacted your time at Nebraska?

Knight: The biggest impact on my life here in Nebraska has been through all of the connections I have made with fellow students. I am an out-of-state student, and I was worried I would feel out of place. But after one year of meeting new people and making new friends, UNL feels like a second home.

Tatineni: Virtually everyone I met at UNL. I have made so many different connections with other students and faculty that have made an impact on my time at UNL. All these interactions have helped me follow the path I am currently on and keep me going.

How will your involvement in teaching youth about STEM topics help you in the future?

Knight: There are quite a few skills that I have developed over the course of this semester as a result of our STEM Club. First and foremost, my presentation skills have improved greatly. It is important to know your audience, especially when working with young students (who have very short attention spans). Secondly, I have gotten a lot better at improvising and thinking on my feet. Sometimes, lessons don’t go according to plan, so we have to come up with different ways to keep students engaged. Lastly, I have learned a lot about planning things and coordinating with other people. I have had to communicate with Rohan, our site coordinator, our club coordinator, and even the Community Learning Center in order for this club to be successful.

Tatineni: I would say I tend to be more introverted. As a result, putting myself in this position to lead a club of students is daunting. However, participating in Honors Afterschool Clubs has been a rewarding experience. I have learned the importance of patience, improvisation and confidence. These skills will help me as I go on to my future schooling/career. For instance, having patience is a vital skill, especially when working with others. Improvision will always be a useful trait to have. Finally, confidence will help me engage with others better. All these traits I have learned through this experience will be vital to success in the future.

Nebraska honors students Spencer Knight, right, and Rohan Tatineni, left, work with Riley Elementary students in their after-school STEM club.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Nebraska honors students Spencer Knight and Rohan Tatineni work with Riley Elementary students in their after-school STEM club.

What is one piece of advice you would give a student looking to give back to their community?

Knight: You get out what you put in. Community service looks great on a resume, but the true rewards come when you dedicate yourself to the betterment of those around you. You can form connections with people outside your usual cliques, gain unique experiences, and learn to see from new perspectives.

Tatineni: I would first brainstorm different ways you could give back to the community or ask advisers and check out the weekly emails from your major (ex. Biochemistry Mid-Week Update) for opportunities. It is important to find something you are interested in because if you feel forced to give back, then you will never have fun or be truly invested in it. Then I would go for it. If you don’t like the opportunity, you can always leave. If you never try, then you will never know its potential.

What is something you’ve learned that will stick with you after you graduate?

Knight: Be nice to everyone, because you never know when you will see them again. At this point in my life, I know many different groups of people from many different walks of life. While I may not see most of them anymore, I can be satisfied knowing that I made a positive impact in their life.

Tatineni: How many ways that you make an impact. There are simple ways such as holding open a door for someone or complimenting someone or you could do something like Honors Afterschool Clubs to directly make an impact on someone’s life. Through UNL, I have truly learned the power of making an impact and this will stick with me forever.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

Knight: After I graduate, I hope to find my place in the world. I don’t have any specific companies I would like to work for, and I don’t even know where I want to settle down. My only hope is that wherever I am and whatever I end up doing, I am happy and have no regrets.

Tatineni: I hope to attend medical school and eventually become a doctor. I have always been fascinated by the human body and health care. As of now, I am unsure of what type of doctor I want to be.

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