BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
Two sisters—Asha Samuel, a sixth-grader, and Saya Samuel, a seventh-grader—recently established themselves as philanthropists by donating their life’s savings to the STEM program that they attend at York College.
The children drained their savings accounts to donate to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) MUREP (Minority University Research and Education Program), which is also known as the MUREP Aerospace Academy (MAA). The program, founded at the college in 1999, is dependent upon external funding for survival.
The girls’ parents enrolled the sisters in the York College class, a Saturday and summer program for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The free opportunity, which was designed to cultivate an early interest in STEM education for children in Southeast Queens, was brought to York College in partnership with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). With minimal funding from NASA, the MAA program relies on corporate sponsorship via Con Edison and National Grid, but also private philanthropy.
During the fall 2017 orientation for Asha and Saya Samuel’s group, the director, Dr. Nazrul Khandaker—who is also a geology professor at the college—talked about the struggle for funding to keep it running as well as the role that the community can play in keeping it alive and offering superior STEM education to children in the area.
Inspired, Asha and Saya told their parents, who were in the audience, that they wanted to dip into their savings, which they had been accumulating since they were born, and donate it. Their goal is to help keep the program running, so that more children can take part in the reputed NASA opportunity at York College. The parents agreed and the budding philanthropists made a formal presentation of nearly all of their savings—$3,000—on Dec. 2.
“We made the donation, so that the program will be here for other children to have the same experience that we’re having,” said Asha Samuel, the younger of the two sisters, who each presented a $1,500 check to the program.
Her sister, Saya, who also presented a $1,500 check, agreed.
“At first, you think that you don’t want to get up early on Saturdays,” said Saya. “But now, we love coming.”
Neither child has yet decided if she will pursue a STEM major in college, but both agreed that the exposure they are receiving in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a win-win. Their cousins, Peyton Samuel and Joshua Thomas, are also taking part in the program.
To date, more than 24,000 public school children have gone through the STEM program since its inception 18 years ago. Consequently, many have chosen STEM majors in college and all have expressed the importance of their early exposure to the sciences in enriching their educational experience and kindling their curiosity.
“By emptying their savings accounts and making this timely donation to the NASA MAA STEM Program at York College, Asha and Saya Samuel made history and opened the door for non-traditional philanthropists,” said Khandaker.