From a club to an expanding nonprofit, two Michigan State University students have created a program called Equiduct where MSU students have the opportunity to give back to their own community, providing Lansing students with access to quality education.
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, biochemistry & molecular biology senior John Henige and neuroscience senior Jonas Padilla found themselves wanting to make a greater impact within their Lansing community. The two attended high school together at U of D Jesuit in Detroit where they said that volunteering was instilled in them.
During their high school years, volunteering in Detroit, the two noticed the power and effect of socioeconomic class and how it can determine where you end up in life.
The two began reaching out to their classmates, hoping to gather at least 20 students to begin their club, with the idea of tutoring Lansing district students.
Henige had already been volunteering at Eastside Community Action Center.
“When it comes down to it, we’re college-educated students,” Henige said. “We have the experience of not only graduating high school and getting through it, but we’ve been motivated, we’ve had lots of mentors.”
Henige said he felt instead of volunteering at the center, he wanted to use the time to mentor youth in the area.
“What would happen if we brought together as many of them (college students) as we could and put them towards one common goal?” Henige said. “There’s 50,000 students at Michigan State. There’s just over 10,000 (students) in Lansing. Five to one. There are not many reasons why each kid shouldn’t have a tutor or a mentor.”
With their vision in mind, Padilla and Henige began reaching out to the Lansing district, trying to get into the school system. After a year, they were in, beginning to work with Mt. Hope Elementary and Eastside Community Action Center.
“Eastside Community Action Center’s major purpose is to provide services and programs to assist the citizens of Lansing, improve the quality of life,” the center's executive director Stan Parker said. “Our motto is: Helping change the lives of people one at a time.”
The center's executive director Stan Parker said he helped to create the center to assist the Lansing community, offering an after-school program, a community food pantry and clothing closet and more.
When Padilla and Henige came to Parker, Parker said he found himself excited.
“I’m committed to helping people improve the quality of their lives,” Parker said. “I look at my own life and I realize growing up in Detroit, if it hadn’t been for social workers coming along, working with my parents, we might not have made it.”
Equiduct not only helps ECAC with its after-school program but they also serve as mentors in their Inspire to Achieve mentoring program.
Working with students between the ages of 6 and 16, volunteers help to tutor them in all aspects of education including arts and crafts and sometimes even foreign languages.
“On the mentoring side, they are serving as, I say, the first light to help many of these kids see that they can go further than what their family might thought they could have or what they might think they could have,” Dr. Parker said.
In the Lansing area, there are opportunities for high school students to receive scholarships in order to attend college, however, that may not be common knowledge.
“I think a really common misconception is that underserved impoverished communities don’t go to college because they can’t afford it,” Henige said. “Which is not true at all. There is a surplus of scholarships and programs for these students, but not nearly enough people that can meet the requirements of them.”
Henige goes on to explain the scholarship program Lansing Promise, saying that if a student graduates from a Lansing high school and is accepted into Lansing Community College, their tuition will be covered through the program.
A goal of Equiduct is to help the students reach the requirements, starting to work towards it at a young age.
While it is a bit more difficult to quantify the progress of the students, the tutors have begun to keep tabs through Excel sheets in order to see what the students are working on and struggling with in an organized matter.
Between Equiduct’s three subprograms — Students for Financial Freedom, Students for Educational Equity and the mentorship program — Henige and Padilla think they have created a program where students have the ability and push to become the best versions of themselves.
The co-founders plan to expand in the future, having already added a new location at Eastern Fieldhouse this past March. They want to move beyond Lansing, but first want to be sure Equiduct is a “finely tuned machine."