Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
At the young age of 16, Deepthi Chandra discovered a subtle but powerful truth about life that many people may never come to fully appreciate: In order to learn, you need to understand how to teach. For Chandra, this insight happened in a fitting place — the classroom. She noticed that there were a lot of students in her AP courses at Bothell’s North Creek High School who were having difficulty learning the material from their “dense” textbooks, and this gave her an idea. She started making videos to break down the subject matter in a straightforward manner that her classmates could more easily digest. “I started making these AP prep videos, like Khan Academy, but they were by me, another teen, so I guess it was more interesting,” says Chandra.
The videos helped, so Chandra rallied more students to make prep videos for other AP classes. She called them EclipsNotes, and before long, the original group of creators at her high school was joined by content producers from other cities and schools. Today, Chandra and her team of industrious collaborators and far-flung video contributors can point proudly to a thriving, content-rich website of more than 2,900 video “lessons” that are viewed around the world.
One of the unique aspects of this vibrant, ubiquitously positive media-sharing platform has evolved within the past year. Chandra explains: “We realized that it’s not really the prep resources that people need — because you can find AP content online in other places. The thing that people, especially teens, really need is to find their passion and their direction. We decided that it would be better to create a community where people could teach about everything that they’re passionate about and listen to and learn from other people who share their stories and teach courses about what they care about.” From ways to support students with special needs to advice for turning disappointment into drive to practical study topics like “How to AP World History,” the site is a fascinating rabbit hole of endless discovery — interesting stories, perspectives, how-tos and insights for life, produced by teens for teens.
Although maintenance of the site is manageable — perhaps totaling five hours a week for editing and posting of video content, Chandra estimates — the more time-consuming task before her, as founder and executive director of EclipsNotes, is focusing on developing partnerships with other organizations and nonprofits to chart the next phase of the site’s growth. She shares her vision: “Khan Academy [offers] free content; on YouTube, anybody can post; and Coursera has online courses taught by really passionate people. EclipsNotes is really special in that it is a teen platform, it’s entirely free, and anybody can post. It combines the best of three worlds, and if we can get it to really [claim its place] in terms of media and social media, I think it could help a lot of people.”
In addition to handling her coursework and running EclipsNotes, Chandra has also spearheaded another charitable enterprise, through a Vital Voices grant, that she calls Notebooks for India. She explains: “I use the grant money to buy plain craft-paper notebooks, and we have local middle school students paint them with mandalas. Then we sell them in bookstores and use the money to send supply packages back to welfare schools in India.”
I ask Chandra why she thinks she has been able to make such an impact already in her young life. She credits her intelligence and drive, but also her emotional strengths, chief among them authenticity and perseverance. “I want to be really good-natured, never fake or inauthentic, and even if I lose, [at least] I know I did it the right way. When I see stuff I don’t like, I really want to change it, and I will be willing to do anything. It’s not that I’m just willing to do anything — I will actually not sleep or eat or whatever until it gets done,” she explains.
It is this kind of precocious determination that infuses her advice to other young people who are trying to figure out how to make their mark on the world. “When it comes to doing social work or things like volunteering, the opportunity that’s most meaningful is the one that you find yourself. Start by looking for the people you want to fight for. Even if you don’t know what or who it is, look in the entire world, instead of just in your town, because it’s really easy to live in the bubble of your immediate school, your immediate family and friends.”
The future beyond the bubble of Bothell looks very bright for Deepthi Chandra, indeed. In addition to “more cool things to come” for EclipsNotes — including more partnerships and productions to support local school clubs, and a video competition for content creators, complete with a red-carpet awards night ceremony to honor winners — her internal compass for passion and direction has found its true north.
“I am really looking forward to going to college,” she says. “I want to go out of state and I want to see so many different kinds of people and to travel everywhere. Whatever college I go to, I know I will find more people who can support me there.”