I can distinctly remember walking into my AP Economics class one Wednesday morning. As I took my seat, I took notice of the agenda written out in front of me. The large font spelled out the words Russia-Ukraine War. The class proceeded like ordinary, but for me, it felt like anything but.
As we engaged in a discussion about recent Russian aggression towards Ukraine, I instantly felt a knot in my stomach continuing to deepen. The more class that went on, the more I realized how little we as students knew about what was going on. It felt like such a profound event that was occurring, so I could feel myself growing concerned about how ignorant we were.
It felt strange to be unaware of the events that would be the history future students learn about.
It was that day I got the idea for “Raise Your Political and Social IQ!”: a curriculum that would educate students on current events in history classes. These events range from foreign, domestic, racial, cultural, etc. and are taught through the materials I helped develop — all with the main goal of growing student awareness and developing our ability to engage in the necessary conversations to create lasting change.
Raising a project from the ground up
Introducing a new curriculum in my school took a lot of work.
As this idea was forming in my mind, I found an opportunity through the Youth Collaboratory at Citizen University that helped me bring it to life.This experience has been pivotal in shaping both the current and future versions of myself.
The Youth Collaboratory is a program that helps high schoolers learn how to build power and be a positive influence on the culture of our communities.
I can confidently say that my peers in the Collaboratory are some of the brightest minds I’ve ever been privileged to converse with.
We had meetings and trips throughout the year where we would engage in roundtable discussions over the pressing political and social issues which affect our country. The energy, passion, and intelligence of the cohort not only inspired me so deeply, but also broadened my perspective. It gave me insight on a wide range of ideas and experiences; a result of our diverse lives from being from all over the country. We also got to connect with members of the National Civic Collaboratory. The interactions with members like Kaz Brecher, founder of Curious Catalyst, were energizing and rich, purely because of their extensive experience and kindness to share.
Putting the power in Power Projects
For the longest, I equated power with the government or large corporations. I never thought about the individual power I have and the collective power of unity. Upon our first meeting in Seattle, we began discussing the laws of power as laid out in Eric Liu’s book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think. I particularly resonated with the third law: “Power is infinite. Power is assumed to be finite and zero sum, but really it’s infinite → so change the equation.”
It was this idea that became the crux for my Power Project at school. I can distinctly remember coming home from our first meeting and being so lost on what I wanted my project to be. I felt so enlightened from the trip, but didn’t know how to apply all that I had learned about into my community here in Irvine, California. In retrospect, I found this to be a common sentiment found amongst most Youth Collaboratory members. What I have found is that the knowledge of everything I acquired from this experience has never left me. Instead it has become a part of me; I am able to reference different memories and connections as circumstances arise in my own life. This was the catalyst that ultimately led to the creation of my Power project.
When I sat in my AP Economics class that day, I used this experience to help formulate my project. Specifically, using power to help with the implementation process of the idea.
I used my individual power to take the idea to my teacher. I used our shared power to get this idea presented to the history department.
I also used the idea of changing the equation when recognizing the importance of making a change in our history classes. I truly believed that we could collectively make a change in how things were done at school. I dreamed about the reality of students being able to be passionate, and engage with subject matter in a deep way.
The coolest part of our trips to Washington DC and LA was being able to share all of the progress we had made on our Power Projects. It felt like a great touchpoint for new Ideas and problem solving that I didn’t get by myself. Not only that, but I got to also get council and make connections with the resources that the National Civic Collabratory members had to offer.
I can honestly say that I have learned so much from my time with Citizen University. I have learned the importance of articulating my thoughts; the power words can have when discussing sensitive topics.
I have learned about the importance of group thinking and the value of collaboration to create complex solutions.
I have learned that I have a love for critical thinking, human interaction, and problem-solving; all which will help any of my future endeavors. Even with all of this, the best part has been the deep and lasting friendships I have made as a result of this experience. I have met some of my closest friends; people who have genuinely supported and encouraged me in so many ways.
I guess that I can say as the person writing this that I am different from the girl who sat in my AP Economics class that day; I am grounded, confident, and a captain in harnessing all that I have to offer. I have been able to see so much personal growth in developing my own individual power and being able to identify problems that I may have otherwise disregarded for someone else.
Youth Collab has been the opportunity of a lifetime and one I truly recommend for everyone! The amount of personal growth, new ideas, and the overall experience will change you in so many ways.
Anishka Durvasula was a member of the 2022 Youth Collaboratory. She lives in Irvine, California.
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