Guest Post: Graduate Student Gefei Zhang Finds Passion through Balancing the Books Volunteer Program

After I started classes at Syracuse, I often felt bored because as a graduate student, I only had three courses this semester. Naturally, I tried to find something else to do. I went to the Annual Taste of Westcott, had delicious food there, and I also noticed that two students were encouraging people to join volunteer programs from the Shaw Center. I introduced myself to them and asked if there was a suitable program for me to join. They shared the Balancing the Books Program with me.

This program is a collaboration among the Shaw Center, the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, Huntington Middle School, and Henninger High School. The goal of the volunteer program is to help “at-risk” seventh and ninth grade students in the Syracuse City School District. Volunteer tutors from Whitman work with the students to help prepare them for the transition into high school or college. Tutors would teach them topics such as financial literacy, reading, writing, mathematics and other skills that are necessary to further their education.

I was excited about this opportunity because I thought it was a good chance for me to get much more involved in the community here. I submitted my application form and two reference letters and had an interview with the coordinator of the program. Finally, I became a tutor for Henninger High School.

Usually, the tutors get together every Friday, learn about what would be covered in the session together and then traveled to the high school together. The classroom was organized so that one tutor can work with a couple of students on various topics. We helped students build personal LinkedIn pages, write resumes, make budgets and develop their own entrepreneurial idea.

The session that impressed me most was when we were talking about the entrepreneurial ideas.

I asked, “Is there anything that you want in order to make your life even better?” One of the students on my team said that she wanted to have flying shoes because she didn’t want to walk and she wanted to fly. I thought it was a really cool idea. I said, “Well, now you’ve already given us a good idea, so let’s think about what resources we need. How can we make it come true?”

“Yeah…That’s not easy. How can we make it?” she asked.

“Maybe we can hire an engineer to make these shoes,” I advised.

“Yeah, and then maybe we can have some gas in the shoes so it can fly by burning the gas,” she chimed in.

”That sounds great!” I said. ”But what kind of shoes do you want to use to make such a flying shoes?”

“Jordan! I love Jordan Shoes!” she said.

“How about the price? How much do you want to sell it for?”

“Well, I hope that everyone can buy such cool shoes…how about 100 dollars?”

”That’s an attractive price, but is it enough for us to cover the cost?” I asked.

“Then how about 200 dollars? I don’t want to make it too expensive.”

“Yeah, I see. Maybe you can consider using cheaper shoes.” I suggested.

“Oh, no….”

We didn’t reach an agreement at the end because of the limited time, but we had a lot of fun. She learned how to come up with an idea, how to find ways to make it come true, and how to control the cost during our discussion. That is exactly the way we teach high school students about other topics as well in each session. We didn’t focus on theories, but rather tried to teach them as we were chatting and playing games.

I feel lucky to be involved in the Balancing the Books program. The students were easy to work with and I always had a good time there. If interested in this program, please contact the Shaw Center. The Balancing the Books program is a one-year commitment for participants.