Sibling Changemakers Improve Communities Through STEM: Trisha and Tejas's Journey
Get to know the Changemakers
What is your favorite breakfast food?
Avocado Sandwich (Trisha); Pancakes (Tejas)
If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?
“Dogs are trustworthy, loyal, empathetic, and energetic and embody a changemaker.” (Trisha)
“Cheetah, they are the fastest.” (Tejas)
When you were 4, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“I was probably too busy enjoying the TV-series “Walking with the Dog”. I wanted to contribute to the advances in STEM.” (Trisha)
“President of the USA” (Tejas)
What is something that you are passionate about?
“Education, Changemaking, Climate Change, STEM, addressing inequalities, and music” (Both)
What are you grateful for?
“I am grateful for positively touching the lives of others and thankful for my strength and courage to get through daily struggles.” (Trisha)
“Mom’s Food” (Tejas)
What stereotype is inaccurate about young people?
“Young people are too young to experience, know, or handle things.” (Trisha)
“That we do not know anything.” (Tejas)
What stereotype is accurate about young people?
“We fight for what we believe in. That we are mature enough than what we look like.” (Trisha)
“Sometimes adults do not understand us.” (Tejas)
What is unique in growing up today?
“Many innovations in STEM, entrepreneurship, AI, Robotic, and healthcare are occurring. The sky is no longer the limit any more.” (Trisha)
“We can do anything if we put our minds together.” (Tejas)
What do you think is the most urgent problem threatening your generation?
“Women and Children, Hunger and Poverty, Racial Injustice and Violence, Climate Change, and STEM-divide.” (Trisha)
“Climate Change, World Hunger, STEM-divide.” (Tejas)
What should others know about changemakers like you?
“If I am crazy enough to think of changing society, I can actually follow through, as the greatest superpowers of visible positive change lie within each of us - the powers to create, express, connect, and change in meaningful positive ways.” (Trisha)
“Empathy, energy, excellence, and empowerment (4Es) are the founding pillars of my changemaker journey.” (Tejas)
What advice would you give to other young people starting their changemaker journey?
“Do cultivate empathy, energy, and excellence without fail and not be afraid to ask for help and be ready to selflessly serve without expectation or asking for any credit. Do always generate more than what you consume from society.” (Trisha)
“Do not wait, start early for your changemaking initiative to inspire others.” (Tejas)
What advice do you wish you had gotten when you started out?
“Reach out to individuals, organizations and community groups.” (Trisha)
“Help is around the corner and I should have been courageous enough to ask for it much earlier.” (Tejas)
Trisha and Tejas's Changemaker Journey
When not in class, one can find siblings Trisha and Tejas practicing piano, singing, biking, soccer, preparing for Bee contests, collaborating with STEM/Robotics teams, and participating in social activism. The siblings are united through their changemaking passions, such as promoting STEM and robotics, enhancing climate change awareness, improving the plight of women and children, addressing hunger and poverty, and fighting for racial justice.
This story was written by Trisha Patnaik and Tejas Patnaik and edited for length and clarity by Reilly Brooks.
“We noticed a critical moment for young people around the world: the digital divide is growing faster than ever before, thus increasing the STEM divide with it. We share belief that education is the most important thing one can receive and impart to others. It is an investment that stays with one forever,” Trisha reflects. Chicagoland high school students Trisha and Tejas are two high achieving students with an acumen for STEM. However, they see a similar need to democratize access to technology to ensure more students can participate in STEM education.
To increase participation in STEM activities, they realized that many students similarly placed did not have equal access to STEM opportunities in the increasingly digitized communities across the nation. “Our goal is to ignite a passion to explore a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics among traditional student populations and encourage others to consider STEM disciplines in college and as a career. It also aims to show how STEM can be fun and spark a passion for scientific pursuits. We conduct STEM/Robotics clubs in schools, tutor STEM courses, organize STEM workshops, promote STEM/Robotics in communities, perform STEM advocacy with a simple goal to bridge the STEM divide. Additionally, we run our projects promoting plastic usage reduction, climate control initiatives in local communities, and some activities in India,” both observe.
Both credit their early involvement with North South Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting excellence, education, and empathy in Indian American young people and families with 90 US-based chapters.“NSF provided us analytical, project management, human values, teamwork, and changemaking skills and it guided our passion, tenacious spirit, and streamlined our unique paths for success,” Trisha says.
“Our formal involvement predates the 2018 National Bee Finals and JNV-Joint Commissioner presentation on volunteering opportunities for US-high school students impressed us. JNV empowers young minds from impoverished backgrounds to excel in education,” Trisha remarks. “Ashoka and NSF collaborated from Summer 2019 onwards and hosted changemaking webinars to spark interest and commitment to social change. With other passionate young minds, we were both exposed to an early spark, design-thinking, steps for launching a social project with a solution-based approach, catapulting our journeys. We also heard first-hand from great social entrepreneurs like Dr. Bill Drayton at the 2019 NSF Bee Finals at MIT, reinforcing those concepts,” both concur.
“Our early involvement in science and math classes and elementary school science fairs continued through middle school and onto high school. It was very disheartening to see many students lacking interest in STEM during their formative years in middle schools. For example, at my school, student participation was not enough in fields like Robotics, Science, Math, Drone, and Tech. Sometimes, the encouragement was not up to the level expected due to various limitations. And, when there was an opportunity, female member participation dropped alarmingly too due to peer pressure. Additionally, female STEM-role models were few and far in between for inspiration, support, and guidance,” Trisha shares.
“The STEM/Robotic team started out as a high school, girl-powered team as we were unable to recruit boys. With the expansion and increased awareness, we had to disband the girl-powered name-tag and opened it for everyone. We wanted a student-led space to pursue STEM learning and activities,” Tejas says.
“Sensing a need, we prepared an action plan, presented to school leadership, and district officials, requested permission, logistical support, sponsorship, funding, and initiated dialogue ahead of our anticipated program start. After obtaining permission, we successfully established STEM, Robotics, and ‘Girls Who Code’ clubs. We then located donors and sponsors along with recruiting teammates and coaches,” the pair describes.
Once they formed teams, they conducted “brainstorming sessions with teammates covering details such as building space, meeting logistics and equipment. We discussed how to source an uninterrupted supply of funds for our STEM-activities at our respective schools and elsewhere. We formed sub-teams, coordinated fundraising, developed lesson-plans, created social-media content, communicated with officials, and performed outreach activities in our communities,” both share.
Most importantly, the pair ignited curiosity and confidence in the team members and themselves. Activating other young leaders, they “paired team members based upon their skills and used hands-on creativity, wrote codes, built robots, and invited speakers/coaches. Sure, we had our share of disappointments and failures, but we rise to the challenge. One such highlight was our team’s participation and qualification in state and world tournaments during our inaugural year. Our school officials were also big supporters of these community changemakers all along,” Trisha beams with pride.
“We put our schools and local community on the national STEM-radar by partnering with the Bolingbrook STEM Association, and Purdue University (northwest campus). Our team conducted educational activities, and workshops to enhance and sustain our STEM-outreach. Renowned institutions invited us to perform STEM-based research and attend conferences. We spent countless hours promoting these activities at local, national, and international levels,” Trisha shares.
“We originally thought to design and implement a Robotics/STEM enrichment program for our schools and district, and run the program for one year then re-evaluate, re-adjust, and move forward. We implemented major chunks of it successfully and the rest are being implemented, but we always wondered about its long-term impact and legacy. The following year, we advocated for the STEM curriculum in schools, urging school principals and local and national elected officials (Lauren Underwood, Dick Durbin, Elizabeth Warren, and Dr. Bill Foster) to take our demands seriously and enact improved STEM legislations,” both concur.
“Our work created a ripple effect by inspiring other changemakers. We realized that teamwork and collaboration are required for addressing STEM-divide,” Trisha attests. “Gone are the days of individual problem solvers. Simple problems are non-existent these days or are very few and far in between. Futuristic issues will need a collective mindset to solve and will be intuitive, challenging, and complex, requiring multiple collaborators,” Trisha observes.
“These principles are the bedrock of our changemaking success in spreading STEM-awareness,” Trisha and Tejas explain. Hopeful, the friends notice “infinite STEM changemaking opportunities in communities nationwide. Anyone can be a changemaker but helping hands are needed to make that changemaking journey a memorable and enjoyable one. Both Ashoka and NSF turned out to be our helping hands with the right platform for our changemaking dreams. We realized our involvement in changemaking is one thing, but storytelling enables us to inspire others to be changemakers.”
“Empathy, energy, excellence, and empowerment (4Es) are the founding pillars of our changemaking journey. Empowering others means graduating on the changemaking scale. Hence, empowerment is a very important cog in the changemaking wheel. We were a novice team with some prior experience in skills such as fundraising and organizing. We dismantled the status-quo and convinced others that we can do anything together as the sky is not the limit anymore.
Trisha and Tejas have been met with overwhelming support. Tejas used to be bused to high school on selected days to help run the STEM/Robotic club in addition to running his own middle school STEM/Robotic club. “Some of these schools’ clubs have been on hiatus for nearly 15 years,” Tejas says, “now, these students are qualifying for national competitions and spelling bees.” “That's the changemaking commitment, Tejas exclaims, “When one is passionate about changing, neither age nor circumstance matters. Only the changemaking journey touching lives becomes important,” Trisha said.
COVID-19 pandemic taught them that provisioning of digital devices is mandatory in bridging STEM-divide. Both have spent the majority of last year being part of a national young changemakers team delivering digital devices to underserved kids to bridge the digital divide. By December 2020, they raised over $100,000, including a matching grant, and delivered 706-Chromebooks to 13-nationwide schools and districts across several states. Read the full story of this project here.
What advice do Tejas and Trisha have for other young people? “Get involved early and cultivate empathy, passion, selfless service without fail,” they impart, “Do not be afraid to ask for help; be it in your school, community, or even organizations that you belong to. Do not be afraid of failures as you learn more through them than what you would have learned through successes. These failures make you resilient, forcing you to introspect, to change things in you, around you, and everywhere. Real changemaking germinates from the seeds of failures, kickstarting the journey itself. Do table these opportunities/failures in your journey as a family dialogue at home. Also, do realize that there are tons of opportunities lurking behind these failures. Lastly, do not rest until you see those visible positive changes taking root even though it is minute.”
“We have advice for parents/guardians too: Please contribute a little of your time and commitment if you can, by jumping into it instead of driving your young changemakers around with their journeys. We are all too busy to meet our commitments; be it at home, work, or communities sometimes, in a fair and equitable manner. We tend to forget somehow who we are, and how we got into this competition band-wagon,” they candidly share.
Thinking about their own parents, Trisha describes, “My parents are big supporters of our changemaking journeys, but my dad in particular, who is a Boy Scout, is a classic example. Certain qualities such as readiness for selfless service, creating and extending opportunities, not consuming more opportunities than creating, and not taking credit for any noble work, is embedded in his blood. However, over time, he forgot his changemaking roots due to lack of time and other commitments. Our changemaking journey re-energized his passion and electrified his own sense of power and now he is thinking about how he can positively impact his workplace and community, among others. His renewed commitment to change demonstrates that changemaking can happen at any age.
Starting college next fall, Trisha notes, “It is really exciting, but scary too.” But, more confident than ever, Trisha is open-minded about the journey and mindful of the responsibilities ahead of her. Speaking of responsibilities, they certainly seem to grow over time as she was ecstatic to find out that she was recently awarded the “Presidential Gold Service” medal and a commendation letter from White House for creating visible change in her community.
“A changemaker is always ready to make changes anywhere and everywhere. Always embrace your inner power and do some soul-searching,” Tejas reflects. “Find inspiration from others and locate all the inequalities that exist, perform research on some of them, and decide which changemaker journey you want to be associated with. Once done, invite others to join and make it a fun journey. Until then, enjoy all the opportunities that come your way, even at these times.”
Trisha and Tejas offer special thanks for Valley View School Districts, Bolingbrook High School, Brooks Middle School, North South Foundation, Ashoka, Purdue University Northwest Campus, Fermi National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Bolingbrook Stem Association, Village of Bolingbrook, Jennifer Pizzuto, Lois Emde, Lauren Ross, Kent Slayton, Dr. Keith Wood, Dr. Jason Pascavage, Dr. Christy Vehe, and Senators (Lauren Underwood, Dr. Bill Foster, Dick Durbin, and Elizabeth Warren) for directly or indirectly supporting them in their changemaker journeys. It takes an ecosystem to raise a changemaker.