Most associate the consequence of dropping down to do 10 pushups with punishment. But for George Washington University junior computer science major Issouf Diarrassouba, it’s the signal of a job well done by both himself and his students alike.
Since its pilot program in 2021, Diarrassouba has been involved with the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service’s Math Matters, a tutoring program that partners a GW student with middle schoolers from D.C. Public Schools. While these middle school students might see math as tedious right now, STEM skills encompass so much of the present and future work environment that it’s crucial to develop sufficient knowledge of the subject. Diarrassouba, for example, thinks learning how to code will be mandatory for school-aged children the way cursive once was.
It's up to Diarrassouba, who will be using math in his career, to make it fun for the kids while fostering a learning environment. Three times a week and for 45 minutes at a time, Diarrassouba, now Math Matters’ lead tutor, will go to a D.C. public middle school to work with anywhere from one to four children. He’ll give students an opportunity to work through problems on the big whiteboard. He’ll organize a race to see which student finishes first—sometimes with a piece of candy at the end. And, every now and then, he'll promise to drop down and do 10 pushups if they answer a problem correctly.
Diarrassouba is aware of the responsibility he has and relishes the role.
“I’ve had to, rightfully, earn their respect,” he said. “So, there have been little things I’ve done to build bonds with them.
“Creating some fun and passion is something I try to instill in the students.”
Math Matters is open to all GW undergraduates and graduates and is a paid semester-long or yearlong commitment available to Federal Work-Study (FWS) and non-FWS students.
Diarrassouba has been tutoring since his own public high school days in the Bronx, New York, and believes it is one of the finest ways to give back to the next generation. Diarrassouba grew up with older brothers to look up to—in fact, he envisions going into business with them one day—and also had an English teacher who helped to broaden his horizons.
He knows the importance of mentorship for children at a public school, especially since the pandemic interrupted some formidable years of their early education. And being a budding computer scientist who came from a similar public-school background in a big city, he is humbled to be someone these kids can look up to and aspire to be.
“It goes a tremendously long way,” Diarrassouba said. “Every time we had a career panel, I’d just say ‘I’m going to get there one day.’ I wanted to get to a point in my life where I could give back to other students and be that for them.”
Diarrassouba sees a lot of potential in the children he tutors and is passionate about helping them tap into it. It’s been a mutually beneficial experience, he said, as tutoring through Math Matters has connected with his own academic career.
“It really has helped me see the same things in a different point of view, that's not zeros and ones,” Diarrassouba said. “It’s really helped me become a better problem solver.
“And,” he said, “It’s been really fun to see the students go through the problem-solving process.”
Even if that’s meant dropping down and giving 10.
GW Serves is a monthly series featuring students who are living out the university’s mission to build up public service leaders and active citizens to create a better world for all.