Curious Cardinals is on a mission to empower middle and high school students to discover what it is in the world they care about, and then utilize the platform and its community to pursue that passion wholeheartedly.
Too many students do not know why they learn in the first place. They perceive learning as an obligation, not a privilege.
When I was in high school, I was super passionate about running and wanted to run in college. I loved reading, got anxious about writing but was generally good at it, and hated math and science. I was focused on succeeding: fast times on the track, good grades on my transcript, consistent community service involvement, leadership positions by junior/senior year. I thought I knew the formula to success, but beyond a Harvard or Stanford acceptance, I couldn’t really tell you what success looked like.
Different destinations along my personal journey played an integral role in defining who I am. The summer after 10th grade, I traveled to Spain for a homestay program. I lived with a family for a month speaking Spanish in the North, and absolutely loved it. I loved eating with this family, getting to know how they lived, and what they cared about, and how it was similar and different to my own upbringing. I loved that learning a new language opened doors to new people, ideas, cultures, and lifestyles. This experience planted the seed for my passion for immigration, given my new understanding that despite all our differences, we are all the same, and we are much richer together. Language alone had the power to expand my worldview.
In junior year, I learned to be a leader and agent of my own destiny. I maverick-ed the Princeton debate tournament, arguably the most important one of the year. My partner, who also happened to be one of my best friends, was so stressed with Junior year pressure that she decided to not participate. I had spent extensive time preparing, and wanted to see this tournament through. Debating alone and winning various rounds showed me that I loved research, debate, intellectual discussion, and competition. This also instilled the idea in me that I am a leader, and fueled my confidence in myself to perform and act as an individual. That same year, I fell in love with the literature I read and history I learned in my English and American history junior year class. I was so bummed to hear that we weren’t reading the famous Great Gatsby and wasn’t satisfied by the paucity of literature included in the syllabus. I wanted to read more, but with guidance and with essays along the way or maybe even a grade to motivate my reading. So, I started an independent study on 1920s literature with my junior year English teacher. I loved it. Literature taught me the importance of crafting words together to effectively tell stories, and to put myself in the shoes of others and intimately imagine their own experiences. I fell in love with the literature, and cherished that intimate learning time.
By senior year, I was horrified by Donald Trump’s rhetoric around immigration and felt inclined to understand how we arrived at this point in which the president was describing a group of people, immigrants, so horrifically. So, I started reading about the topic. I felt the stats that defined the experience in the articles I was reading diminished the individuality of the experience. Who made up the numbers that comprised these stats? So, I began interviewing immigrants in Spanish. I ultimately presented my findings and components of the interviews to a group of teachers and peers at my school. I could combine storytelling with research to share new perspectives to others, and hopefully elicit their empathy in doing so. Little did I know, I had embarked on my first research project.
No one told me this was research. No one told me where to get started. I did not realize that trying these new things out and exploring these new topics were integral milestones in my journey of discovering myself and what I cared about in the world.
When I got accepted into Stanford, I felt like I could breathe. I could learn, study, and perform for the sake of learning, and not for the grade as the end goal. I started reading books in my free time or even free periods. I went to museums several times a week. I gave myself the space to learn just to learn. To explore, discover, pursue free from the fear of failure and with the sentiment that I had nothing to lose.
No one ever showed me that it’s okay to fail. In school, they told us to fail forward, but it never felt genuine. They never showed us who failed forward and what that comeback could look like. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, what I was good at, and what I should stay far far away from. I knew nothing.
I was inspired to start Curious Cardinals after I began tutoring a 7th grade girl in the beginning of the pandemic. What started as a history/writing gig evolved into an independent study. I observed that my student was absorbing and regurgitating what she was reading in textbooks. I wanted to equip her with the context to inform her opinion on the subject matter, and take agency over her learning. I created lesson plans to apply what Jane was learning in school to the things I was most passionate about — criminal justice reform, gender equality, immigration history. I could’ve found these passions earlier on, but I didn’t — not because of a lack of trying, but because of a lack of exposure and mental space to open myself to new subject matters. I wanted to give her this exposure.
When I pushed Jane and taught her more and more, I saw how her mind, worldview and curiosity had all expanded.
She’d ask me, “how do you write that fast? How do you write that well?!” I’d tell her that she was way ahead of the writing level I was at while I was her very same age. Our proximity in age to one another made what I accomplished that much more attainable to her.
I meanwhile thought about all my peers at Stanford who felt so passionate about their respective interests and wondered how we could get that started at a younger age. I also took the time to dissect what that journey entailed for me.
A new mentality that allowed for openness to learning.
An inspiring mentor who nourished new interests and unveiled the steps they took in their own journey.
A supportive community of peers with complementary skill sets and shared curiosites.
All of these factors combined could change everything.
Curious Cardinals is the one stop shop for the passion journey.
It starts with discovery. First, students and their parents come to the Curious Cardinals platform to browse through the journey of our college mentors to understand what steps they took to arrive at the place they are at today. You can filter through mentors by passion, identity, and personality and determine what you prioritize in someone you look up to or want to learn from as your mentor.
For certain students, the key may be finding someone who you can see yourself in who may not otherwise be accessible or present in your own community. I was one of three girls in my high school honors math class, the rest of the class made up of all boys. I received my first C+ on a math test, and began to lose confidence when I saw the boys around me boast about their test score. More than anything, I saw women thrive in humanities but not in STEM so I felt that matched my own destiny too. If I could have connected with a female STEM mentor who I saw myself in and could relate to and look up to, maybe I would’ve turned out as an engineer? Instead, I demoted myself to the regular math class where I felt I belonged.
In high school, I was an aspiring college runner. I would spend hours on a website called MileSplit. More than just to browse through race result times, I’d look at the top runners in the country and press on their profile. They were likely juniors or seniors in high school. As a freshman, I wondered, what did they run in 9th grade? 10th grade? Was their 4:50 mile time achievable? Was my freshman year time similar to theirs? And if so, could I follow their trajectory? Was this something I could reach given where I was at now? The platform shed visibility on their journey over time, giving me confidence in my own ability to run those times myself.
Similarly, for Alec, he found someone he admired, wanted to be, and decided to follow their journey. During Alec’s 6th grade career day, every student got to choose who they would shadow for the day: lawyers, film makers, chefs, teachers, doctors… in the corner, stood a pilot (who also happened to be his best friend’s dad). No one walked to him. Alec loved airplanes and thought the fact that this man flew and studied them as his lifework was so cool, so he went to Javier, the pilot. That day when he came home from school, he told his parents he wanted to be a pilot and get his pilot’s license. They said he could only do so if he learned how airplanes worked. And so, Javier the pilot took the aspiring pilot, Alec, under his wing (no pun intended) to teach him to fly, and Alec began studying. A future aerospace engineer was born.
We hope to create a platform that sheds light upon the progress our accomplished college mentors have made over time since no person’s journey is linear. There are spike moments indeed, but how does one reach that apex? What happens when there’s a decline? Maybe a student sees themselves in a mentor’s 7th grade self so perfectly that they decide they can become their “junior in college self.,” and begin striving for that, taking the steps along the journey that said mentor did from 7th grade and onwards.
A parent may come to the platform because they have no idea how to support their student’s newfound obsession with video games. Is this normal?! They wonder and agonize. This parent comes to Curious Cardinals and filters for ‘video games’ and discovers that computer science and engineering majors loved and played video games incessantly in middle and high school too. They just learned how to tap into that passion, and apply it to video engineering and creation.
Inspiration fuels the discovery process. Being able to find someone who you aspire to be allows you to humanize certain goals too.
Discovery is easier said than done. In high school, my crippling STEM angst prevented me from taking a computer science course. I told myself, this class will hurt your GPA. Fear of failure stopped me from trying something new that I was genuinely curious to learn more about and understand. In order to overcome that initial hesitation, I needed to free myself from the fear of a bad grade.
Discovery can also be short and sweet, unintentional, or come when least expected. I discovered my passion for criminal justice reform after reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy in my junior year. Alec discovered his passion for micro-finance when determining where to spend his summer going into 9th grade to improve his French; he thought it was lame to go to France because “that’s what everyone does,” so he chose to go to Senegal. When determining what to do there, he came across micro-finance and decided to try it out. “This looks cool,” 14 year old Alec thought. Little did he know, this summer experience would evolve into a serious passion. Alec devoted most of his spare time in high school to building and growing the micro-finance nonprofit he founded, Soles4Good.
So, Curious Cardinals creates learning opportunities with low risks and low barriers to entry in order to ensure that no fear of failure nor overly extensive or complicated presentation hinders a student from just trying something new out. Workshops culminate in project deliverables so students can showcase the knowledge and understanding they’ve acquired in a tangible way. Workshops vary in length too. Students can also work with a mentor individually to hone in a subject and pursue a passion project. Beyond the workshop and 1:1 offerings, students can attend free panel discussions on new topics to hear wisdom from college mentors in open forum, short sessions.
Curious Cardinals promotes discovery as a lifelong process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and one’s passions may continue to evolve over time.
Once a student has discovered something they care about, pursuing that thing can be overwhelming. If you’re a serious runner or baseball player, the trajectory from 7th to 12th grade is pretty clear: go to practice, improve your running times or batting average, go from sitting on the bench to starting, and then work your way up to being the team captain. For a student who is passionate about climate change or feminist studies, there is no playbook. There are minimal options, spaces, mentors, and collaborators to nurture these passions.
When I became passionate about immigration and criminal justice reform, I didn’t really know what was within the realm of possibility as a high schooler. I proposed and created two independent studies for myself in high school. I google searched “criminal justice and immigration reform volunteer opportunities” and the “best books” to read on the topics. I felt lost though; the trajectory was not clear to me. I spent more time searching what to do than doing. I longed for guidance but I at least felt confidence in these passions.
The pursuit of passions requires options, space, resources, and inspiration. For a student who is passionate about climate change, we believe in teaching them not just the science of climate change, but also how to engineer solutions to climate change, climate change journalism so they know how to communicate these complex topics to others. Curious Cardinals champions interdisciplinary and holistic learning. Rather than learn in silos, Curious Cardinals pushes students to learn broadly, with curiosity.
Pursuit also means equipping students with the resources, guidance, and inspiration to transform their passions into something tangible, impactful. A lot of students have ideas or big dreams, but without either the blueprint of how they can bring those dreams to fruition or encouragement that they are capable of what they set out to do, many students ultimately don’t move forward.
At Curious Cardinals, we aim to empower students with the knowledge, guidance, and inspiration to be agents of the change they want to see in the world. Whether it’s in a group or 1:1 setting, we prioritize instilling an inclination towards action in our students and community.
Finally, passion finding and pursuing requires reflection. We are building out a product feature where students can document and identify inflection points, progress, and results in their own journey. I love using the Nike running app when I run because it tells me my weekly, monthly, and annual average running time, my fastest mile yet, etc. In school, students are taught to work towards grades as indicators of their success. The absence of progress monitoring within extracurriculars or enrichment diminishes the sentiment that students are working towards something. No, the outcome is not a letter grade or number score, but a centralized forum where students document the workshops they’ve taken, projects they’ve completed, and other experiences that influenced their growth.
Community amplifies any passion. So, at Curious Cardinals we ensure that no students feel isolated in their own pursuits, but we will use tech to optimize the most unique connections, bringing students together with shared passions and complementary skill sets. When Alec started his own microfinance nonprofit in Senegal in high school, he longed for partners to work with him. When I became passionate about criminal justice and immigration reform, I searched for friends to discuss these topics with and learn more together. And when I found a friend to translate i-589 asylum forms together for refugees in NYC, it was the discussions we had on the subway back home together that gave me the space to reflect and imagine what impact we could make together. It was the companionship I found that expanded my imagination, my belief, my passion.
Beyond teamwork, we want to leverage the best of technology to bring students together from different walks of life and parts of the world. Part of what makes university so special is the opportunity to connect with students from all over the world and learn together. A diversity of perspective energizes and enriches classroom discussions. When learning about immigration policy in the US, why not bring students from Mexico, Texas, and California together? When learning about political polarization in the US, create a space for students from Mississippi, New York, Illinois, and Florida to discuss this and learn together. When learning about engineering solutions to climate change, connect students from the US, China, Sweden, and Germany.
The future of the Curious Cardinals community is limitless. Up to now, we’ve observed wonderful relationships forged via Curious Cardinals: a group of students in Alec’s Future of Aviation class all continued to take the What is Rocket Science course together, and even speak over group weekly facetime calls. Two Curious Cardinals students paired on the same project started dating. Curious Cardinals mentors have met one another and formed social and professional friendships too. The way we connect individuals by tapping into what they care about in the world and who they are at their core is something magical. Who knows where it can go?
Curious Cardinals aims to become the passion place, embedding itself in the social infrastructure of the world — how students discover, pursue, and dream high. Perhaps the passion community will evolve into the Strava of learning and passion finding, creating an open forum where students share their learnings and projects in an encouraging and healthily competitive forum. We aspire to be a social media platform that allows for the professional connections that LinkedIn enables, but the authenticity, vulnerability, and collaborative energy that no existing platform prioritizes (in my opinion).
There is no existing technology that powers passion finding through exploration, community, and mentorship. That’s why the world needs Curious Cardinals — a platform fueling the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, artists, healers, thinkers, philosophers, activists, and game changers of tomorrow.