For Om Manghani, education is essential. It’s the reason why his father came to America, and a main reason behind Manghani’s dedication to public service, he says. At Penn, Manghani is majoring in sociology and economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, foundational disciplines that have helped him understand the U.S. educational system. Now he is also studying education policy in the Graduate School of Education.
Originally from Pleasant Hill, California, Manghani had teachers and mentors who encouraged his growth. As he got older, he says, he came to understand how important those opportunities and relationships had been and how opportunity isn’t always even across the board. “I realized more and more how unequal our U.S. education system is, and I know from firsthand experience how transformative a strong education can be,” he says. “I’m really passionate about broadening access and equity within our education system, particularly for students of color and low-income students who historically and currently do not receive the same level of opportunities.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, educational disparities widened. Looking to address this, in 2022, Manghani started MathMates, an after-school tutoring program at Andrew Hamilton School. There MathMates pairs Penn tutors with middle school students on math worksheets and games.
Manghani, a long-time collaborator with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, originally developed the concept as a final assignment for an academically based community service course taught by the Netter Center’s founding director, Ira Harkavy. Now, about 40 Penn students work with MathMates, Manghani says, and the program collaborates with Hamilton math teachers to ensure that the extracurricular activities support classroom learning.
The program is so much more than fractions and decimals, Manghani says. “It’s students’ conception of themselves as learners, their own confidence; these mentorship relationships between Penn students and middle school students are far more than just the transactional content.”
As a fourth-year, Manghani is now working on transferring the organization leadership of MathMates to a new generation and hopes it will continue after he is gone. “From the Penn student perspective, I think we learn so much and grow so much from these opportunities,” he says. “It’s truly mutually beneficial, where we are learning and we’re growing from this experience.”
Manghani has applied for a Fulbright to teach in Laos next year and hopes to fight educational inequality over the course of his career. For him, “the classroom is a phenomenal, transformative place in our society.” he says. He wants to make sure it remains that way.