Name: Sumedha Kumari
From: San Francisco, California
Grade: college freshman
School: University of California Santa Barbara
2009 was the first summer my family did not go to India. The recession had hit
small businesses hard and a two-month vacation was unrealistic.
Realizing the impossibility of the trip, my parents signed me up for
a summer learning program called Aim High. At the time, my
disappointed, angry, 11-year-old self did not realize I would return
to Aim High for another four summers, two as a faculty member,
ultimately growing into a confident, independent individual, able to
fully express myself.
I grew attached to Aim High as a student, though truly blossomed when I
became an assistant teacher. I fell in love with the program’s motto:
Reach for a Dream. Establishing high expectations not rooted in
grades, but in students’ capabilities, faculty members created a
supportive learning environment. I admired the energy and dedication
of the Aim High staff and as a teaching assistant, I became part of
the magic they created. My previous teachers, now colleagues, showed
confidence in my mentoring abilities. On my first day, my lead
teacher empowered me to teach a section of the daily math lesson.
This learning experience was much more valuable than the ten dollars
an hour I would have earned elsewhere, such as working at my parents’
gas station. Rejoining the Aim High family made me part of a larger
As an assistant teacher, I realized that my contribution to the program was
much larger than the hours I spent teaching. At one point, I worked
one-on-one with a student with severe learning disabilities to help
solidify her understanding of basic addition and subtraction. In the
process, I helped her overcome her fear of speaking in class and
sharing her ideas. Just as Aim High had provided me with mentors to
help me find myself in a scramble of academic pressure and jumbled
social messages, I was a mentor who had positively impacted the lives
of other, younger students. Looking back, I value the commitment I
made to my academics, Parliamentary Debate and Indian cultural dance,
but I am most proud of my commitment to Aim High and my role as a
mentor to students, in whom I see a reflection of my younger self.
Aim High has an academic focus, but the program also worked to transform me
socially. I was never a shy student, but I definitely was reserved
when socializing outside the classroom. Interacting with a variety of
people allowed me to strengthen my communication skills and become
more outgoing. I have expanded my reach to people worldwide through
my YouTube channel. In my videos I take a comical spin on the
everyday struggles of a South Asian living in America and present a
relatable, funny glimpse into my life.
Summer 2009 did not take place as I had expected. What seemed like an
unremarkable summer program turned into a transformative 5-year
experience. I have emerged as a successful student, mentor, and
entertainer, carving a pathway towards myself and my identity.