OAKLAND, Calif. - After achieving an astounding 4.05 grade-point average his first year at Stanford University, Oakland’s Ahmed Muhammad has returned home for the summer to take care of Town business while giving much credit to his high school experience for his success so far, at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The Oakland Technical High School graduate and that school's first Black male class valedictorian said the lessons he learned at his alma mater helped provide him with the tools he needed in this next step of his academic journey.
"My classes at Stanford in terms of how I approached them weren’t too much different from what my teachers required of me in high school," the 19-year-old told KTVU.
He said that there were some adjustments he had to make as a college student: Class sizes were significantly larger than what he was used to, with lecture halls full of hundreds of students. And as most new students to college quickly realized, Muhammad astutely pointed out that there were "a lot of ways to be able to have fun that are not necessarily productive."
But he was also quick to note that the study habits and discipline he developed at Tech guided him, and the lessons from his teachers helped him maneuver through it all.
"I didn’t understand why they were expecting so much in high school, why they were tough on me, but now, come to college, I’m directly applying what they taught me," Muhammad explained.
He said that the tools that came in handy at Stanford ranged from using his high school lessons in calculus and Advanced Placement physics, to knowing how to seek out extra help from his instructors, attending office hours, and just "having the discipline to sit down and actually study and grind out the material."
He also carried with him a key approach to excelling in school. "My teachers would also stress to me that it’s not about the grade, but to commit to the class," Muhammad explained. "Not shooting for grades but shooting to understand the material, and the grade follows." That approach has proven to be quite successful for the teen. The grades have followed. He also noted, while it was hard work, his studies have been fun.
As he prepared to move into his second year, he’s been able to narrow down what he’ll major in-- computer science or possibly, electrical engineering with a minor in mechanical engineering design.
He’s also looking into summer internships in those fields.
Muhammad, who has made headlines not only for his success in the classroom but for the work he’s done through his science education non-profit, said that after a busy first year as an undergrad, he’s ready to get back to work in his community to continue his mission to make science learning more accessible to the kids in his home city.
Oakland teen Ahmed Muhammad founded science education company Kits Cubed. (Ahmed Muhammad/Kits Cubed)
This summer, he has great designs on ways to grow his non-profit, Kits Cubed. He founded the organization out of his garage during the start of the pandemic in 2020, with the goal of creating hands-on science experiences for children, through kits that are affordable and accessible, using every day, basic items.
He’s working to make some of the Kits Cubed activities he launched last year, an annual tradition. That included a big end-of-summer science fair during the Labor Day weekend, which drew hundreds of Oakland kids during its inaugural event last year.
Science education non-profit Kits Cubed held its first ever science fair at Oakland Technical High School on Sept. 4, 2021, drawing more than 1,500 people. The group plans to hold another science fair this summer. (Kits Cubed/Ahmed Muhammad)
Plans were also in the works to offer another summer of free science camps at the West Oakland Youth Center. As part of that effort, Kits Cubed was again partnering with Oakland-based the Fam 1st Family Foundation, a community group led by former Oakland Tech football stars and NFL players Marshawn Lynch and Joshua Johnson.
Kits Cubed founder, Ahmed Muhammad, held his first free science summer camp for kids in Oakland last summer. (Ahmed Muhammad )
And something demonstrated by the entrepreneurial-minded student time and time again, Muhammad was seeking new ways to use his company to expand his reach in helping to instill a love of science among young people. So as part of his work as National Geographic Young Explorer, which he was named last year along with two dozen other young trailblazers around the world, he’s also creating a pilot program that would get Kits Cubed science kits in more young hands.
Under that program, his non-profit was creating new kits to align with the Full Option Science System (FOSS) curriculum, used in public schools across the country.
The FOSS kits will then be distributed to Oakland classrooms, integrated with the Oakland Unified School District’s science curriculum. Eventually, the FOSS kits could be used in districts around the country. "So kids can actually take home the material and expand on the material that their teachers taught them," Muhammad explained, adding, "It’s based on the same philosophy for kids to explore the things they know and are familiar with to show science is all around them."
The Kits Cubed founder said that it was a busy first year at Stanford and that’s meant he hasn’t been as involved in his company as he’s been in the past.
"College was a lot," Muhammad acknowledged, "I completely underestimated how much work college would be." To keep Kits Cubed operating and expanding, he said it was increasingly apparent that he needed to hand off some of the work.
And as he’s done all along, he’s depending on the young people in his community to keep this endeavor going. This summer, he’s growing his company by adding new paid positions, all with the plan to hire and encourage teens and young adults to get involved.
Those ages 16 to 24 were encouraged to apply for job openings in areas including kit development, community outreach, marketing and graphic design. He’s also inviting young volunteers to intern this summer.
"It’s all youth-led to empower our community," Muhammad said.
And spoken like a parent, who wants his child to mature and reach new heights, Muhammad acknowledged that while he wanted to be fully and actively involved in this organization he created, he knew he’d have to let go in some areas. "Kits Cubed is much larger than myself," the non-profit’s founder said. "Even as I'm growing in college, I want Kits Cubed to grow."
KTVU has been following Muhammad’s accomplishments and endeavors since our first story on him back in 2020, not long after he launched Kits Cubed.
Back then, he was only 17, about to start his junior year at Oakland Tech, and he shared with KTVU about how he was motivated by the desire to give back, while acknowledging those who have inspired, supported and helped him along the way on his journey.
"All I am I owe," the then high school student told us. It’s a conviction he’s held true to, as he marked his successful first year at Stanford, acknowledging his high school teachers who helped shape him as a student.
In this latest interview with Muhammad, he was quick to name those high school teachers who contributed to his growth: Ms. Fong, Ms. Joe, Mr. Demarinis, and Mr. Stubblefield, he listed. He also gave credit to school administrators Mr. Price and Mr. Bachicha and said, "They were some of my biggest supporters/motivators all throughout high school."
And when asked whether he felt pressure to continue to meet expectations and perform at such a high level both in and out of the classroom, he said, not at all. Rather, "It’s motivation and love from people who support me and who wish the best on me. If I fall or slip, someone will be there and pick me up and encourage me to go forward."
And that going "forward" has also been about paying it forward for this young Oakland man who continued to invest in his community and its youth, never failing to look back on where he came from, as he looked ahead to his future.
Stanford University student Ahmed Ahmed Muhammad, 19, speaking to kids at a Heads Up event in Oakland in February 2022. (Ahmed Muhammad)
Oakland's Ahmed Muhammad, 19, finished his first year at Stanford University with a 4.05 GPA. He's back home for the summer and eager to expand his non-profit, Kits Cubed, helping to make science more accessible to kids in his community. (Ahmed Muhammad)