Zoe Simon is a 17 year old senior at Wood River High School located in Hailey Idaho. She is the founder of Steam On, a free one-on-one STEAM tutoring initiative where students can be paired with peers for free tutoring classes. Keep reading to find out how this remarkable 17 year old created this organization summer of 2019, grew her social media platform and how she’s currently balancing SteamOn with extracurriculars, assignments and social life.
Question 1: What were some challenges you encountered in setting up your organization and how did you overcome them?
In setting up Steam On, my main challenges were finding people to get involved, balancing running an organization with my other commitments, and distinguishing Steam On from other equitable education organizations. I was able to find leaders and tutors for the organization by building an active social media presence for our non-profit and reaching out to people who I thought might be a good fit for our team. I was able to search for possible candidates largely through searching on other people’s pages and asking students who I had already located if they knew anyone who might be a good fit. Slowly but surely, I was able to find some great people to get involved. I found a balance between running Steam On and my other commitments by really committing to each thing in the time I had to spend doing it. That meant not worrying about studying for exams when I was sitting down to do some work on Steam On’s website, setting aside new applications to finish writing a debate case, et cetera. I found that if I really just made sure that I was using my time to the best of my ability to complete a given task that I could find a good balance even during a really busy day. I was able to distinguish Steam On from other education non-profits by sitting down and brainstorming what was lacking in terms of programming and/or initiatives with other organizations. I talked with many other non-profit leaders and student organizers to figure out what was being done and what was not to level the playing field in STEAM. I found that nobody was really offering free tutoring to students and although there were some learning resources and curriculum available to students and educators, no real peer-to-peer education was accessible and proactive.
So I built a free tutoring program at Steam On, where we connect students to their peers to receive the help that they need in a safe and educational learning environment.
Question 2: On Steam On’s website, it mentions a tutoring program. How does that program work exactly?
One of Steam On’s main programs is our free tutoring initiative. The way our tutoring program works is that students can request tutoring through our website by filling out a simple form, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or reaching out to their area’s local manager (if applicable). We then pair a student with a tutor who works with a student of their age group in the course/subject they requested and they set up a Facetime, Skype, call, meeting in person (if possible), etc at a time that works for the student and tutor. Essentially, our website and organization serves as a bridge to connect people who wants help and those happy to provide it.
Question 3: What sets Steam On apart from other organizations with similar missions to bridge the inequality gap?
Our unique programming, one-on-one peer education model, and diverse leadership group set us apart from other organizations with similar missions. We are fighting to bridge the divide in STEAM education on the frontlines by working with the students who need help, mentorship, and support. We are committed to helping the students who need it and we put the time, energy, and passion necessary to make a difference into everything we do.
At Steam On, we believe actions speak louder than words so we don’t just talk about the barriers facing underrepresented and underserved communities, we tackle them head on.
Our peer-to-peer education model also sets us apart from similar organizations. Steam On understands that students coming from underrepresented populations need to see, learn from, and work with people like them if they want to feel included and wanted in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Representation is often a significant obstacle to students in STEAM who don’t fit into the norm (white male from upper or middle class family).
Learning alongside your peers, including people coming from an underserved or disadvantaged community, makes all the difference when exploring your passion.
Our leadership group is comprised mainly of students coming from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds such first gen, low income, female, LGBTQ+, socio-economic or racial minority, and more. Therefore, we are uniquely positioned to connect and empathize with the communities we are serving. We understand the issue because we have experienced it hands-on; so, our team can tackle the problems we are facing in a more understanding and comprehensive way.
Question 4: What is Steam On’s proudest moment?
Steam On’s proudest moment was probably when we held our first tutoring session via Skype. It was incredible getting to put our programming into action and see the impact our work is having in real time.
Helping these students get the help that they need, explore their passions, and learn something new was truly so rewarding and inspiring for me.
Question 5: Tell us about how you were able to implement the chapter program— what is the process of creating a chapter for each region? How do you communicate with chapter leaders?
We are working on setting up a chapter program currently as we just started offering the opportunity to students globally last week. Once we get the program into action though, we will have a leadership chain that ensures that chapter leaders and members are receiving the attention and help that they need to progress. The process of creating a chapter is quite simple, a student can simply reach out to us via email or DM and a member of our leadership team talks with the prospective leader about the commitment that starting a chapter entails; what kind of work they can do; their options for hosting events, tutoring sessions, and more; and how they could run their chapter. Once a chapter is founded, the local manager/chapter leader communicates directly with their state director about any questions, concerns, or comments they may have about their chapter. The state director coordinates with them to host events, establish tutoring locations, develop their chapter, etc. The state director then reports to their regional director about the progress of their state’s chapters and their regional director talks with the national team about what is happening in their region on all levels. This leadership network makes problem-solving easy and efficient on local, state, and regional levels as we have a group of students who regularly communicate with the other leadership to address anything going on in the organization. Chapter leaders can therefore find solutions to any issues that may arise by simply consulting their state, regional director, or national director.
Question 6: What impact has social media had on your organization?
Social media has had a really positive impact on our organization as it has served as one of our biggest sources of growth and support. The students I have been able to connect with via social media have had such wonderful thoughts, experiences, and talents to offer to our organization. Social media has really allowed me to connect with students around the world and make a difference far beyond my own community and for that I am extremely grateful. The main platform Steam On utilizes is Instagram; I have tried to cultivate an active and engaging presence on Instagram since founding the organization and I believe that dedication has really paid off. We have received applications from some incredible students who discovered our organization via social media and in that respect, our social platforms have really been a driving force behind our expansion and development.
Question 7: How should one go about finding team members for their organization? What makes a good team member?
A growing organization should really look to social media to find team members and leaders. Social media has been one of the biggest forces behind Steam On’s development and growth because it has connected us with a body of diverse students from across the globe who are passionate about making a difference. Maintaining an active presence on social media can really attract a lot of attention and driven people looking to get involved in a cause. I started out by emailing/DMing every organization I could find on Instagram at all similar to our own and asking them to give Steam On a shoutout, tell their friends, post about us, etc and that really helped us gain some following online. Although we still have a fairly small online presence and following, I have found that social media has served as a great way to grow and find people to get involved in an organization. A good team member is anyone willing to put in the time, effort, and passion to make an impact.
Anybody who really cares about your mission and wants to get involved can make a great addition to your team!
Question 8: Running a successful organization takes a lot of hardwork and effort. While running Steam On, how do you balance your school/work/social life?
I found a balance between running Steam On and my other activities by really investing 100% into each thing I was doing and not worrying about anything else in that moment.
I don’t worry about tests when I was building our website. When I sit down to work on cases or leadership activities for debate, I don’t think about the new application that just came in to join our leadership team. On the tennis court, I don’t stress over finding a tutor for a student wanting to learn algebra. I put everything I have into what I am working on each moment and when I can set the other stuff aside, I find that I work more efficiently and create time for myself to do the other things I need to do. When I am at school I focus solely on my classwork and I get whatever I can done during class or during lunch. When I am working on Steam On, I set my homework aside. Even when it seems like there isn’t enough time in the day, I don’t worry about the next thing; I simply focus on what I am doing now. For me, balancing school/work/social life is about focusing on each thing one at a time.
Question 9: Outside of Steam On, what other hobbies do you have?
I am involved in a lot of different activities in and out of school in addition to running Steam On. In school, I am heavily involved in Speech and Debate as the Team Captain, Next Generation Politics as the President, National Honors Society as class President, Model U.N. as a senior member, Business Professionals of America as a senior member, and Tennis as a Varsity athlete. Outside of school I serve as a student board member and coach for the Southern Idaho Girls on the Run, fellow for the Blaine County Democrats association, and board member for the Student Coalition Council of our local Wood River Land Trust. Some of my favorite hobbies are playing tennis, taking photographs, playing with my dogs, and hiking.
Question 10: What is your favorite movie genre?
My favorite movie genre is definitely comedies. Anything that can make me laugh, I will watch.
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