AU senior finds passion and purpose in DC Reads

‘It’s something that I know I am making difference in my community’

AU senior finds passion and purpose in DC Reads

For Nisaa Chaudhry, making a difference in her community comes naturally. 

As the College of Arts and Sciences senior prepares to graduate this spring, she reflects on the time she has spent volunteering with Reading Partners to support students who are from historically under-resourced communities. 

Chaudhry became involved with Reading Partners during her freshman year of college and has been a dedicated tutor ever since. She had tutored with students before at an elementary school near her home in Alexandria, so when looking for a federal work-study job, a site within DC Reads seemed like the perfect fit.

Chaudhry received recognition recently for her unwavering dedication to service in the form of the American University Student Award in Outstanding Community Service. 

“It was really nice to be recognized for it because I think I’m hoping that if people read my bio they would also be inspired to try out some type of community service at AU during their time here,” Chaudhry said.

DC Reads is a collaboration of off-campus literacy programs that provide tutoring to children in elementary school. This program is a local response to the America Reads challenge that began in the fall of 1997 under the Clinton administration. Reading Partners is one of the many sites DC Reads partners with.

“I’m planning on going to medical school, but had it not been for a career in health sciences and medicine, I would have definitely done education,” Chaudhry said. “It’s kind of like something that I like to do alongside my health work.”

She shared how she has always had a passion for teaching others that has carried with her throughout her college career through her tutoring for public health classes at AU and interning with children at the Latin American Youth Center alongside volunteering for DC Reads.

Reading Partners, the organization she works with, founded its D.C. chapter in 2010. 

“Our mission overall is to help children to become lifelong readers by empowering communities to provide individualized instruction with measurable results,” said Jenese Jones Oden, Reading Partners DC's interim program director. 

Reading Partners’ main focus is to help support students to improve their literacy skills. Reading is foundational to all types of learning and is an important skill to be proficient at by the end of fourth grade to support success in future learning, Jones Oden said.

With the onslaught of the pandemic, operations have had to change to online and hybrid models of tutoring. 

The need for tutors has only grown with the introduction of online learning as some students are facing 18-month learning gaps from losing in-person instructional time, Jones Oden said. 

“Tutors are the lifeblood of our work,” Jones Oden said. “We can’t thrive without tutors.”

Chaudhry shared that she has remained diligent in tutoring despite the online model, but she missed connecting with the students in person.

“When I was in person, I would walk them from their class to the tutoring center and then walk them back to their class,” Chaudhry said. “It would be small things like that that I’m missing out on now because we just have the computers.”

Chaudhry has been able to continue tutoring along with being a full-time student, working two on-campus jobs and working at a hospital emergency room as a technician.

Brenna Olson, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, has been the team lead for Chaudhry the past two years, and she said Chaudhry had a knack for working with students.

“She’s really proactive especially when it comes to her students,” Olson said. “When I have check-ins with her, she is always really excited to tell me about her students.”

After working with Reading Partners for such a long time, Chaudhry said she has learned the importance of being patient and adapting to the student’s needs with quick and creative ways of teaching. 

After graduation, Chaudhry plans to continue tutoring with Reading Partners and hopes to implement some of her new ideas such as a reading day where tutors who cannot go in person normally due to their busy schedules would be able to come in for a single day event. 

Community service has been an important and defining part of Chaudhry’s life as a college student at AU.

“It’s a great way to step away from the stress of school and work and just do something that you really enjoy,” Chaudhry said. “Everyone has a passion for something and to do some service with that passion is going to make you feel a thousand times better.”

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Jenese Jones Oden as "Oden" and not "Jones Oden" on second reference.

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