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Ankita Ahluwalia: Empowering Marginalized Students From Communities of Color

Ankita Ahluwalia: Empowering Marginalized Students From Communities of Color

Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Ankita Ahluwalia, the founder and executive director of the POWAN Initiative. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Welcome, Ankita! What challenge are you addressing with the POWAN Initiative?

Ankita: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! At the POWAN Initiative, we aim to support K-12 students from communities of color that historically have limited access to supplemental educational enrichment. As COVID-19 unexpectedly changed the way students access education, we are closing the equity gap by empowering marginalized students and increasing student academic success. We assist K-12 students in the Inland Empire and other parts of the United States. Our trained instructors empower students with special needs and disabilities as well.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Ankita: For three years, I listened to impactful teachers teach their students in a warm and welcoming environment that I wanted to recreate for underserved students. When the pandemic hit, I started teaching my first student, whose family struggled with financial obstacles. I decided to tutor him for free because my aim has always been to empower, educate, and serve. After witnessing educational inequities and having this incredible experience of being a role model, I created the POWAN Initiative.

Spiffy: That’s fantastic! Can you elaborate on the Initiative’s manifesto of working towards a more equitable world?

Ankita: The POWAN Initiative strives for equitable education by offering a variety of free e-learning solutions like tutoring, mentoring, college application assistance, educational webinars, and programming bootcamps, all for free. Through these programs we aim to reduce the achievement gap by supporting K-12 students from low-income communities. Our different e-learning components are built to help our students be successful and life-long learners.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company milestone or initiative and the impact that it has on your community.

Ankita: Through our various interviews with teachers, principals, and students, we have gained valuable insights like the importance of cultural connection and proven academic teaching models to serve our K-12 students. These research insights have led us to a 100% student and parent satisfaction rate in POWAN programs. Now, we are planning a virtual after-school program designed to combat obstacles that students, teachers, and school administrators face, which we have earned a letter of support for.

Spiffy: Congratulations! Can you also share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Ankita: I started POWAN as a recent high school graduate and I didn't have any business knowledge whatsoever, so started from square one. It was a tough journey at first as I was still growing as a leader in this edtech space. I'd never even dreamed about being a social-impact entrepreneur and now I can't imagine life without POWAN! With all the failures and setbacks we've had, we've grown to significantly improve our programs and widen our impact to empower more students globally.

Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Ankita: Mentorship is a two-way street. I've had incredibly supportive teachers and mentors in my life. Now, I aim to pay it forward. This year I have devoted my free time to support my peers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). It's been a rewarding and full-cycle experience as I'm empowering UCR early-stage entrepreneurs with the lessons my mentors taught me! Detailed support in marketing, technical, and operational endeavors is absolutely vital, but encouragement and hope is life-changing.

Spiffy: Right you are! More power to you, Ankita. Now, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before I let you go?

Ankita: I started POWAN as a solo tutoring venture and today we have expanded our team to over 60 volunteers working on our e-learning programs to prepare students during this pivotal time in their academic careers. After almost two years in researching effective solutions, we are now working on a specialized after-school program to empower students and teachers. None of this would be possible without our supportive mentors and incredibly dedicated team of volunteers. I'm excited for POWAN's future!

Spiffy: So are we! Thanks for speaking with me today, Ankita—it’s been an honor!

Ankita Ahluwalia is the Founder and Executive Director of POWAN Initiative. She is a Computer Science with Business Applications undergrad student at University of California, Riverside. She aims to create a more equitable future in education for K-12 students globally. She spearheads operational teams and mentors early-stage entrepreneurs. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 14, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.