CSItizen Series Kicks off with two Successful Guests

Four Malvern juniors unveil years of hard work and dedication by interviewing David Hogg, a Parkland school shooting survivor.

Matt Hess, Managing Editor

Cole Cherian ’22 believed having a Ted Talk at Malvern would be interesting; fast forward two years and the idea evolved into a group speaker series.

Cherian met with Assistant Head of School for Academics Mr. Patrick Sillup with the Ted Talk idea, however, when he left the meeting he had a totally different plan. Instead of a Ted Talk, he would help host a speaker series. Sumant Sharma ’22 comments on when he was informed of the group and the rest of the members. 

“I just got a text from him while sitting in English class,” Sharma said. “Then we had a meeting with Mr. Sillup. That’s when the idea started to blossom because he was on board with this. Then we got Joey [Bucci] and Alex [Hamill] together to join in on the plan and that’s when things went into full swing.”

The next step was to assign roles. After discussing everyone’s specialties, the group designated jobs for each member. 

“Cole’s job is speaker curation, so he has to reach out and find the speakers we’re going to get,” Sharma said. “Alex is logistics, so it’s his job to plan out events. He had to figure out all of the technology. Joey is our marketing guy, so he’s behind all the stuff you see on instagram. I am the fundraising guy.”

Finding interesting speakers was difficult at first due to the high costs that were demanded. However, the team acknowledged the problem and created a creative solution to grab the interest of high demand speakers. 

“We noticed we needed a differentiator because any speaker is going for cash, but what is something the highest of the high will go for, and we came up with the idea of the CSItizen scholarship,” Sharma said.

The scholarship interested many speakers including David Hogg, who initially did not want to participate. 

“He comes with a large cost, but instead of paying him outright, we have an endowed scholarship, which is basically a scholarship for a kid to come to Malvern from freshman to senior year,” Sharma said. “Instead of paying that speaker cash, we tell them the scholarship will be in their name. We’ve attracted some top tier speakers that way.”

The entire team starts preparing weeks ahead of the event date. Cherian, the Chairman of CSItizen, adopted a long process of research on the speaker, meticulously figuring out the best questions to ask and how to keep a comfortable flow in the conversation.

“About two or three weeks before the event, I’ll spend one weekend watching a lot of speeches and interviews that a speaker has done, just get to know their entire story,” Cherian said. “Once we have a general list of what that fireside chat is going to look like, then I practice a ton with the questions and preparing responses to answers.”

The CSItizen team knew that marketing was an important aspect for success. Cherian describes how Bucci  and the rest of the team took advantage of social media to grow awareness.

“We got a lot of people to repost our first post on their stories and follow the account. Once we had 40 people repost, we had another 60 people repost without us even asking. That got us to around 230 followers on Instagram within a couple of days and we had about 1800 impressions on the first post,” Cherian said. 

The first event was held on October 12 and featured David Hogg as the first Scholarship Speaker. David Hogg was a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018. After the horrific event, he created the March for Our Lives protest which had about 200,000 protestors in DC in 2018. 

“He’s a political person, but we wanted to look past that. A lot of the press we released was saying that we’re not focusing on his political agenda, we’re focusing on his social impact. How did he turn the worst day of his life into a protest that had millions of people show up, whether it was online or literally in person,” Sharma said.

The CSItizen team understood that some people do not agree with his politics, but they want Malvern students to look beyond that and address how he took part in social impact and changed the world around him.

“Whether or not you agree with his political views, he’s definitely someone you should look up to in terms of social impact because what he did was incredible,” Sharma said. 

Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, they were not allowed to have any in-person guests. After the first event, the team is thrilled about the outcome, but there are some areas they want to improve on.

“I think the audience Q&A, we have to find a way to be more engaging because I didn’t speak very well and I wanted more questions to come in,” Sharma said. “I think a small in person event will prompt more questions.”

Sharma is very happy with his position in the team and loves that he can help provide scholarships to future Malvern students.

“The opportunity to send kids to Malvern is the best gift you could give someone,” Sharma said.  “I couldn’t have imagined I would be doing this in freshman year. At first social impact and all these words sound super cheesy, but when you do it and you’re meaningful with it, it’s really something special.”

The second event was hosted virtually from Duffy Theater, on November 18 with Jeff Abella, the CEO of Moka Origins. After reading an article on Abella, Cherian emailed him, asking if he wanted to be a guest.

“We found out about him because he was profiled in the New York Times and I just reached out over email, asking if he would want to come down and speak,” Cherian said. “He came down on November 18th and he did a fireside chat in-person, which I thought was very cool.”

After doing a lot of research, Cherian created very good questions that included a broad range of topics. 

“We talked a lot about him as a social entrepreneur, how he balances profit as well as social impact in a hybrid sort of enterprise, his story of getting to the point where he is as the CEO of Moka Origins and the founder story of it, as well as the work he’s doing on the FedX advisory board,” Cherian said. 

The event lasted about an hour and covered many topics such as the process of chocolate creation.

“He also talked about the process of chocolate production which was probably the highlight of the event,” Cherian said. “I learned a ton and it was a really interesting event and I think it taught a lot of people who are interested in entrepreneurship that it is advantageous to have an impact focus.”

The CSItizen team was once again pleased with the outcome. Many teachers even shared and discussed the event with their students.

“I know Mr. Algeo from the Leadership class shared the recording, Mr. Ostick shared it to the [AP Economics] class, Mrs. Kenworthey shared it, and Mrs. Wolstenholme shared it. I think it was really relevant to a lot of different areas and I think the content was very cool,” Cherian said. 

With months to prepare for the next event, Cherian is excited about the changes that are being implemented to make future events more interesting.

“I think we have a couple months to play with [it] and you’re going to see Alex really level up the set design,” Cherian said. “It’s going to look a lot different and it’s going to be a lot more branded towards CSItizen and a lot more engaging. I was grateful that we were able to get two events out with a large virtual audience, but we’re aiming to have a sizable presence in Duffy for our next event.”

Bucci and Cherian are also producing a podcast aimed at involving Malvern students. They hope to tie in the Malvern experience and how students can enact social impact in the second semester. 

“We’re putting a new podcast out called MyCSItizen moment and that’s going to talk about people on Campus having their own impact. We want everyone to get inspiration from our events to have their own social impact. What we want to work on for next semester is really creating opportunities for students to do that,” Cherian said.

Cherian is excited for the future of the series and looks forward to what they can accomplish.

“We’re really excited and grateful for the support we’ve gotten from the Malvern community,” he said. “I think it’s been great to see a lot of positive confirmation of this program’s idea in its pilot season. We’re going to make a lot of improvements for this spring and we’re really excited to see what the program does.”