Inside USD

Brian Wisdom, Aaron McCarthy: Young Dreamers United

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The University of San Diego is an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus. As a steward of this initiative, the USD Changemaker Hub awarded nine current USD students up to $2,000 each in the Summer Changemaker Fellowship program, a total that was partially funded by School of Business Administration Board of Advisors member Chris Crane. Each student worked on a project they’re passionate about and makes positive change. This is the second in a series of Inside USD articles about the 2013 Summer Changemaker Fellows.

“How large the world is for these young dreamers.

How much it has to offer.

If only they would begin to realize

That one day, their dreams will develop before their eyes.”

— “Kids Soaring High” poem excerpt from USD student Aaron McCarthy

Brian Wisdom and Aaron McCarthy are University of San Diego Changemakers, forging a close friendship based on a common interest — helping others through education.

Wisdom, a senior business administration major and leadership minor and McCarthy, sophomore accountancy major, understand what students need to excel in the classroom.

“I believe every student has the potential to be the strongest of the group,” Wisdom says. “They just need someone to show that they care and want to work with them.”

As a summer tutor at his high school alma mater, Wisdom recalls how one student’s attitude toward academics changed by having someone believe in him.

“I kept talking to him about college and what it would take to get there,” he says. “I had to rebuff his doubts of saying he could not make it and would not make it.”

For McCarthy, it all started in his mother’s special education class as a seven-year old math tutor for a student with autism. “My task was to show him flashcards and help him answer them if needed. He always had the right answers but when adding with tens, he struggled,” McCarthy says. “I came up with this unique way of helping him solve the problems and soon he was easily answering them.”

Their combined efforts culminated in the creation of Young Dreamers United (YDU), an educational initiative that offers students with subjects that, according to McCarthy, traditional education has often overlooked.

“We want to provide them with the skills and motivation to pursue their dreams, pursue their passions, and basically become both achievers individually and on a global scale,” McCarthy says.

Wisdom and another friend founded YDU while yearning to make a difference in the local community. It blossomed last semester as a group of students, headed by Wisdom, convened weekly to shape its entry into USD’s Social Innovation Challenge, a competition encouraging individuals to create solutions for problems affecting the world, such as poverty, healthcare, and education. The YDU concept made it to the SIC semifinals.

While looking for others to join his SIC team, Wisdom contacted McCarthy at an outside event hosted by Emerging Leaders, a two-credit leadership course Wisdom co-instructed.

“I saw Aaron was eager to make a difference,” Wisdom says. “He keeps our group on track and focused not only in the short term but long term.”

Soon after, the five-member team determined YDU would serve middle school students.

“We decided that middle school students are still so impressionable and, in our opinion, overlooked,” Wisdom says. “There is a lot of focus on younger students and high school students, but we wanted to bridge that gap.”

This summer, they launched their pilot program at Montgomery Middle School in El Cajon. The program received considerable praise by both teachers and students despite some initial trepidation.

“It’s been a learning process,” McCarthy says. “We learned a lot about what activities worked and what didn’t work.”

Montgomery was chosen due to its flexible schedule and proposal that after a two-month observation period, YDU could teach a course and implement its own curriculum.

Each lesson, Wisdom says, involves five mentors and one team captain. The team captain does not engage with the students, but rather oversees the lesson and writes down his or her observations.

“We want to curtail our curriculum to our students and allow the team of mentors to choose how to approach the students, “Wisdom says. “The creativity and innovation begins with the mentors.”

Through solving riddles and keeping daily journals, students gain self-confidence, presentation and writing skills, team dynamic, and relationship building.

Montgomery students, however, were not the only ones who learned to function within a team concept. Confronted with a collection of highly intelligent and strongly opinionated minds, Wisdom says it was challenging at times to juggle everyone’s schedule and agreeing on the vision of YDU.

“But we remind ourselves the reason we are all here is to impact middle school students and help them achieve their opportunity for a successful future,” Wisdom says.

Young Dreamers United hopes to expand into more middle schools next year, and even influence other universities across the United States to adopt it.

“I have the opportunity to use my talents in unique way to help others,” Wisdom says. “I would be wasting that gift if I wasn’t starting a program like this or anything else that may arise in my future.”

— Michael Lu ’12

Read about other 2013 Summer Changemaker Fellows: Ailsa Tirado, Danielle Cantwell, Gabby Sghia-Hughes, Kyle Miller, Ellie Phillips, Katinka Bosch and Leo Brown-Young.

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