ANN ARBOR – Ayesha Nadeem was recently recognized as a 2022 Carson Scholar for her academic achievements and community service efforts.
The sophomore in high school, who attends both Central Academy and Washtenaw Community College, was the only Washtenaw County student to earn the award after volunteering more than 600 hours of her free time in the local community.
Each year, Carson Scholars across the country are awarded $1,000 college scholarships by neurosurgeon and former U.S. presidential candidate Ben Carson and his wife, Candy. In addition, she was also the recipient of a 2022 Michigan Community Impact Award and has been recognized by the United Nations and United Way of Washtenaw County for her community service.
Nadeem said her love for volunteering began at a young age when her mother would take her and her siblings along to volunteer for Food Gatherers and their local library.
Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she discovered virtual volunteering.
From helping autistic adults find employment to teaching karate, Nadeem found a passion in helping others and continued her efforts on a local level.
She and her sister founded Covered In STEM, or CI STEM, to teach middle school- and high school-aged girls how to code.
“I wear a hijab and so does my sister so we’re ‘covered,’” said Nadeem. “We noticed a lot of Muslim girls not going into engineering. You can tell them about the fields but they might not be encouraged to go.”
The project garnered local interest and they held several workshops throughout the year with 15-20 girls attending at a time. What started at Central Academy blossomed into a wide-reaching project and they used word of mouth, Slack and Discord groups to get as many participants as possible.
The sessions were held over Zoom and were very popular, said Nadeem.
Another project she has been a central part of is the Ypsilanti District Library Teen Advisory Group. After starting as a volunteer, she now interns for the library. She helped secure a $24,000 grant for the group’s mental health pack program that drops off free packs at Ozone House and other locations to help local teens connect with resources and gain skills.
“Us teens, we design them and come up with what goes in them,” she said. “It’s really all teens involved.”
She said seeing the difference spending time with others makes drives her to continue volunteer efforts in the community.
“It also breaks stereotypes,” she said. “Even through virtual volunteering, a lot of people are surprised when they someone like me doing something positive.”
“There’s so many people who need it and appreciate it,” she added. “I helped with a reading group. There’s so many kids whose parents can’t even read English. When you’re helping the kid, you’re helping the family. You can help one person but that can help so many more.”
Another aspect of volunteering she enjoys is the way it serves as a way to meet people outside of her immediate circle.
“Obviously we have our bubble, our peers, our teachers,” she said. “If you’re in a school activity, you’re around the same people. A great way of meeting people outside of that familiar setting is community service. You can be in a group with someone from a very privileged school or a very disadvantaged family and you come together for one purpose, and you come home thinking: Maybe my life isn’t so bad.”