The general consensus on teenagers these days seems to be they enjoy taking selfies and sleeping in. Palos Verdes High School graduate Laura Gong does not conform to that stereotype.
Gong began teaching math and volunteering at the age of 12, when she founded Bridge, a nonprofit program that helps bring educational resources to China. Since then, she’s traveled to China several times and launched another nonprofit, South Bay Math Circle, to motivate students to excel in their math classes.
The 17-year-old Palos Verdes High School student recently received a $2,500 scholarship from the PEO Sisterhood, an international philanthropic organization that aims to increase opportunities in education for women.
“I think my volunteer work really abides to their mission,” Gong said. “What I do locally and globally for educational systems really stood out to them.”
Gong said she was inspired to start Math Circle when funding for math clubs was being cut at her school in 2016. Gong and co-founder Zack Folts gather students in grades three to eight to increase their critical thinking skills and participate in math competitions.
“I want to make sure,” Gong said, “these students have opportunities to get interested in coding and STEM too.”
Alongside her local efforts, Gong still makes time to travel abroad for Bridge.
“I try to spark interest in education in the rural areas of China,” Gong said. “We provide scholarships once a year.”
Gong has often made the long journey herself, taking four plane rides and a four-hour bus to the middle of a jungle in China.
“It’s so rural to the point that a lot of people miss it and they don’t realize that people live there,” Gong said. “The people there are in a cyclical lifestyle of farming. They don’t realize they can be doing something else.”
Gong was nominated by an administrator at her high school for the opportunity with the South Bay PEO chapter. After interviewing with some of the women at PEO for the scholarship opportunity, she became even more inspired.
“I met some lovely women there and they talked about what they’ve done in the past and how they liked my ideas and how I could improve,” Gong said. “I thought, even if I didn’t get it they helped me a lot in my process so I was just really excited to be a part of this community.”
Gong will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, where she will study business analytics.