SAGE TALKS: STEM Educator Continues to Inspire Underserved Youth

The power and importance of community in education: STEM educator continues to inspire underserved youth; will speak at upcoming lecture series

In 2008, Chelsey Roebuck was studying mechanical engineering at Columbia University and ready to enter that high-demand field. But everything changed for him following an eye-opening volunteer trip to Ghana, and Roebuck has never looked back.

Roebuck’s experience working with underserved youth in Ghana helped him find his true passion and purpose as an educator—inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists. He co-founded Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering, Inc. (ELiTE), a community-based youth development organization that utilizes STEM education as a vehicle to empower low-opportunity students to realize their academic and career potential.

When the program began, the small team scoured the basement of Columbia’s Engineering School trying desperately to find supplies. They “bootstrapped the program out of piles and piles of repurposed junk,” because Roebuck knew that putting resources in the hands of students was incredibly important, especially in teaching science.

 “In the beginning it was just me and a handful of others running around teaching, planning, and making things happen,” Roebuck said. “The past two years in Ghana have been extremely rewarding to see the volunteers—many of whom started in the program as students themselves—that are now doing the teaching, the lifting, and the inspiring. The local teachers have made the classes more relevant which makes a huge difference and it really proves the power of community in teaching.”

Since its founding, ELiTE has seen tremendous growth, quadrupling in size. ELiTE now hopes to inspire more than 1,000 students this next year in Ghana through its camps, clubs, and workshops, and impact more than 500 students in 20 classrooms in New York City.

“The sense of community that we’ve developed in Ghana over the past 8 years has been remarkable—it’s made the program sustainable and, at times, grow uncontrollably,” Roebuck said.

The nonprofit spun out of an undergraduate volunteer project that Roebuck and a friend completed at Columbia. When they were awarded a $10,000 grant, they jumped at the chance to make a difference in the lives of those in need of a level playing field. The science programs, both after-school and summer camps, have expanded access to these students and utilize common resources to teach and inspire youth.

Roebuck says he continues to be inspired by the youth and their progress and is impressed by sacrifices made by many because of their love of learning. “I have come to realize that sometimes we take things for granted. To see students walk for two hours each day to attend a five-hour science camp is pretty humbling. I’m amazed at their ability to forge rivers and climb mountains to learn, and this keeps me extremely motivated.”

“As an educator, every time I see a light bulb go on in a student’s head, I feel a sense of pride and excitement for the possibility and future of these students. It’s incredibly energizing and super exciting to think what these students might be able to do and become. It’s like the shackles are stripped away and now they can fly,” says Roebuck.

There are many challenges in education today, including the need to address multiple cultures within a single classroom, not to mention the unique challenges each individual student faces. Through his experience, Roebuck has found that understanding students—their backgrounds and circumstances—goes a long way in addressing these challenges.  

“Even if it requires two-thirds of the school year to understand your students’ needs, I believe that teachers can have an everlasting impact on the lives of their students once you gain their trust and show them that you really care.”

Roebuck will speak about the successes of ELiTE at a new lecture series in Salt Lake City, Sage Talks, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m. MDT. The live event and webcast is free and open to the public, who are requested to RSVP at www.wgu.edu/sagetalks_registration. Sage Talks is being hosted by Western Governors University (WGU), the largest producer of STEM educators in the country.

During his Sage Talk, Roebuck will share lessons learned, inspiring stories of motivation, and the importance of community in education. He hopes to inspire new and veteran teachers alike, as well as any professional looking for purpose and motivation in the workplace, no matter their respective field.

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