As teachers, we hope that each year we reach a couple students who will find their passion for learning and careers based in some small way on the work we did together. We like to feel as if we are making a difference in their lives and occasionally, just occasionally, in the lives of those that they in turn reach. In 2006, I had a vague awareness that Chelsey Roebuck enjoyed the classes we shared and working on the robotics team. He was obviously both talented academically and driven to achieve. His acceptance at Columbia School of Engineering was a clear indication of his success to date. Then, as with most students, he faded away except for the occasional visits back to Chestnut Hill and the lab.
I first became aware of something special going on when he called the lab asking if we had any surplus equipment, old laptops, Legos, arduinos, and basic electrical supplies. When I inquired what sort of project requires so many diverse pieces of equipment, he simply replied "school." It never occurred to me that the student was now the teacher.
Chelsey was carrying our donations to Africa where he was starting a program to bring the STEM education he had received at CHA and Columbia to the youth of the continent. He has subsequently expanded his program ELiTE (Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering) to Central America, the Caribbean and more closely to underserved youth in New York City.
Since 2009, Chelsey and ELiTE have pioneered hands-on STEM and computer science programs in low-income communities. In 2016, Roebuck was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education list. Chelsey and ELITE have had a profound impact on all the students they have reached. This past fall, at the FIRST Robotics Gala in NYC, he was awarded the Evelyn Kamen Rising Star Award for his accomplishments in leveling the playing field in STEM for underrepresented populations. (The only other award recipient that evening was President Barack Obama.)
Chelsey is the epitome of the concept of paying it forward. He has taken the opportunities afforded him by CHA and Columbia and spread it globally to those most in need. He has inspired an army of colleagues to help him in this process, magnifying the impact. At the NYC Gala, I was introduced to one of his younger students who pronounced that I was her Grand Teacher — the teacher of her teacher. Through his commitment and vision, Chelsey has ensured that there will be many more generations of teachers and students to come.