Every Thursday, senior electrical engineering student Elijah Zimmerman makes the eight-minute walk from Temple College of Engineering to the U School at 7th and Norris streets. Sitting with 18-year-old U School student Anthony, Elijah acts as part sounding board, part college interpreter: how to apply, what to expect and maybe offering some not-so-subtle reminders to follow up on those scholarship applications.
"You've gotta stay on top of those," Zimmerman smiled. "Scholarships represent the work you already put in toward your education."
Zimmerman is part of the nonprofit mentor program DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc., started by fellow undergraduate student Donovan Forrest. He is one of 30 individual mentors of color DonCARES has connected with students age 14 to 18 since 2015.
"I'm not necessarily a tutor, but more of a counselor to make sure what he's interested in pursuing, I support," Zimmerman said. "I try to give some different perspective."
It's far from where his interests began as a freshman, when the Brooklyn-born Zimmerman literally aimed for the stars. He came to Temple as a chemistry major, looking to pursue astronomy and get involved with NASA in some way. Aside from changing majors, he's now looking at making an impact at ground level, starting with North Philadelphia.
"I really believe that engineering is a tool to help create prosperity for humanity," he said. "I'm very interested in eventually helping low-resource areas in that respect. I want to modernize certain businesses, and modernize certain tools to help certain communities that are often left behind."
His career so far has included leadership positions, in addition to working part-time for Temple Housing and Residential Life, Zimmerman is a member of the student chapter of IEEE and is president of the Student Professional Engineering Council—a committee organized to focus the work of 17 engineering-related student groups in the college.
"One of the reasons I wanted to get involved with student organizations and leadership positions was to learn how to help build teams and put systems in place to help people," he said.
While exploring graduate school options, Zimmerman is wrapping up his team's senior design project, a multi-modal gait analysis system to provide more accurate, qualitative and diagnostic understanding of a patient's walking abilities.
Whatever happens next, it seems that he's well on his way to putting that energy into practice, on Norris Street or wherever his next stop may be.
"I'm just focused on getting my hands moving," he said. "I want to be effective as soon as possible."
To learn more about the DonCAREs program, visit https://www.doncaresphila.org.