This week, we share a student success story about a current high school student rather than a past graduate. Our guest, Ruby Arun, is a high school sophomore and the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Mission:MathMinds. Ruby created the organization in 2020 and says, “Our purpose and mission is to empower girls in STEM.”
Through a combination of hard work and passion, Ruby and her team at Mission:MathMinds have mentored hundreds of students, donated thousands of books, shared inspirational stories of female leaders, and hosted such events as webinars, in-person gatherings, and a national conference. Tune in to hear more about this inspirational story of a student with big dreams, incredible talents, and a motivation to make the world a better place.
The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present, and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm, and courage of the young people.
Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize winner
- Grab-and-Go Lessons (directories of ready-to-use lessons)
- Demystify Computational Thinking (article collection)
- Effectively Integrate Technology Into Your Math Classroom (article collection)
- Girls Who Game: Equity in STEM, with Dr. Kendall Latham (podcast episode)
- Strategies for Youth to Align Passion to Purpose and Education, with Jorge Valenzuela (podcast episode)
- Increasing Equity in STEM, with Cari Warnock (podcast episode)
- Creating Student “Appreneurs,” with Alefiya Master (podcast episode)
In Service to Change the World
“Community service has been a really big part of my life, and that comes from my parents, as well—really giving and generous people,” says our guest, high school sophomore Ruby Arun. Through her nonprofit organization, Mission:MathMinds, Ruby is acting on her motivation to help others. She says, “We have a main mission of empowering children’s education overall. While we do specialize in focusing on girls’ math and STEM education, what we do as a whole is to empower kids, not only here nationally but also internationally.”
Ruby has built a team that works together toward the organization’s mission and goals. She says, “The team has been, I think, one of the best parts of this organization because I can share my passion with a community of like-minded individuals who are just as driven and ambitious to change the world.” She adds, “We’ll never stop until the world is changed.” The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- About Our Guest: Ruby Arun is a high school sophomore. She is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Mission:MathMinds. She is also an internationally recognized American classical and musical theater singer.
- The Beginning: Ruby’s nonprofit, Mission:MathMinds, was established at the beginning of the global pandemic in May of 2020. When speaking about the original motivation for the organization, Ruby adds, “Mission:MathMinds originally started out as a virtual mentoring program where high school girls would sit down with middle school and elementary girls, free of cost. That way, high school girls could get community service hours, and then middle and elementary students could get math help and support—something that was definitely lacking during the COVID times.” The organization reached over 100 students during the first year.
- Girls in STEM Fields: Ruby has always been passionate about math, and she has been involved in competitive math for much of her life. She knows that’s not the case for everyone and says, “In these competitive math environments, there’s always a lack of, not only girls, but my friends wouldn’t even come with me. And you would think math is just a simple thing—just join our team, math team—but it just wasn’t something that people saw as a simple, easy thing just like I did. It was really the math anxiety that was blocking them from joining. So Mission:MathMinds was one of my larger opportunities to change this, not only for my community, but nationally for girls out there, and give them inspiration to join STEM fields.”
- Four Major Sectors: Ruby describes four main sectors of her organization: a mentoring program, female role models, the children education support sector, and a national conference.
- Learning to Love Math and STEM: Mission:MathMinds puts forth efforts to get students to love math and STEM. In-person events are chances for students to “network, meet peers who are like-minded—other individuals who are passionate in STEM—and then some students who, you know, maybe their parents forced them to come. But in the end, they learn to love STEM, and I think that’s the most inspiring part.” Ruby points out, “The difference in our nonprofit is not only are we reaching students who already have a passion in STEM, our goal is to impact students who don’t know about the STEM field and create awareness in that role.”
- Supporting the Children of Ukraine: The war in Ukraine has impacted Ruby deeply. She thinks about the many displaced children and how “their education has been affected in a horrible way.” She says, “It’s hard to hear what they’re going through every day when I’m here in a house with lights, you know, food that’s put on the table for me. I get to go to school, and I complain about having a test. They’re complaining about not having electricity for days on end. And so, as an organization, these types of stories keep me going.” In their effort to help out, her organization has collected and distributed over 8,000 books to displaced children in Ukraine, Poland, and other European partner areas.
- The Importance of Confidence: “My parents have always taught me, especially my dad, don’t be insecure. Confidence is the number one thing that the majority of the world struggles to secure, so if you can get that when you’re young, it’s going to change your life.” Ruby says she always tries to be confident.
- A History of Community Service: Ruby’s public service didn’t start with Mission:MathMinds. Before that, she frequently spent her birthdays at Feed My Starving Children, and she helped raise $1,500 for Hurricane Harvey relief.
- Pushing Through Struggles: “It wasn’t rainbows and sunshine,” admits Ruby. The transition into and out of COVID times was especially hard. She says, “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever suffered through on my journey, but obviously, it was my passion.” She reflects on how she had to reinvent the organization when things moved from virtual support to in-person work.
- Teamwork: Ruby’s team began when she connected with her math teacher, Kate McCully, to share ideas and gain initial support for her plan. From there, her team has expanded to include a board of directors, an advisory board, and student leaders.
- Role Models: Ruby believes in the power of role models—something that has led her to collect the stories of over 30 female role models on her website. She says, “I know a lot of students and friends in my life who don’t have that role model or leader to stand behind them and push them forward, and I’ve had the privilege of having someone do that for me, and it’s just changed my life completely.” Ruby’s role models and mentors include her mother, a family friend, and Kate McCully.
- METS: Ruby is a fan of rearranging the letters in STEM to be METS, putting math first in line. She says, “Math is the driving force behind, not only girls, but students involved in STEM fields.”
- Hard Work and Passion: “You just have to find a passion for something that . . . brings joy to you—something that you can talk about for hours—because I can talk about Mission:MathMinds for hours, and days, and not get bored. Find your passion. These are the two things: passion and hard work. If you can dedicate yourself to something, and you can find the time to put down effort and put it together, then you will be successful.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What stands out to you from Ruby’s story?
- How can you support students, especially girls, in getting engaged with STEM (or METS)?
- What is the importance of role models for young people?
- How can you connect your students to role models?
- How might you engage with Mission:MathMinds and their initiatives?
- How can you get students to buy into the notion of passion plus hard work equals success?