Pranav Rajan, 16, of Lincoln, Neb., a junior at Lincoln East High School, co-founded a statewide organization that gives high school students the chance to combine volunteer service with experiential learning by working on computer-based technology projects for community organizations. When he was in ninth grade, Pranav began to question the usefulness of what he was learning in school. He concluded that learning by doing, rather than just studying, would be much more effective. “When students realize the real-life applications of the concepts learned in school, they begin to show interest and take initiative,” he said. Pranav also reasoned that if his peers could work on educational projects for local nonprofits and other organizations, both the students and society would benefit.
After many conversations with fellow students and his geography teacher, Pranav found four nearby organizations that needed help solving technological issues, and then assembled teams of high school students to work on them. Over time, Pranav forged partnerships with other organizations, enlisted the support of two university professors and two school district administrators, and recruited more than 50 students to participate in projects. These have included developing an application to reduce doctors’ stress levels for a health nonprofit, creating a database for a student-loan concern, building a website for an entrepreneurship organization, and designing an automated data process for an analytics company. With projects now all over Nebraska, Pranav’s “CodeForChange” organization is starting to take root in California and New Jersey, as well. “Our overarching goal is to get students into volunteering while simultaneously learning computer science and entrepreneurship,” said Pranav.