This is part of our new series "Gen: Change," in partnership with Youth Service America, featuring stories from the 25 most influential and powerful young people in the world. Click here to read more about Jonny and his amazing story.
Many may think that a school bus is ordinary, but I see it as extraordinary. Yes, it's an extraordinary opportunity to help decrease our carbon footprint. When walking home from school in seventh grade, I noticed the inefficient design of school buses. I was alarmed by the exhaust spewing from them. I had recently taken a Saturday class about aerodynamics at Northwestern University. Then it hit me! GreenShields! Why not build a shield to retrofit school buses by redirecting the airflow to decrease drag and increase gas mileage? I told my older sister Azza about this idea, since she was a freshman at Highland Park High School in honors physics. She liked this one better than my other ideas, which usually involve homemade rockets and her iPod. Azza took me to see Mr. Kunal Pujara, the freshman and AP physics teacher. Mr. Pujara told me he thought my idea could work and gave me his cell number to contact him if I had any questions. Wow! I was not even a student yet at the high school and he was so nice.
I formed the GreenShields team, got lucky and won a national science contest, received a $1000 grant, built a homemade wind tunnel and did testing in my garage, and then won a $25,000 grant. I got lucky again when I was interviewed on Good Morning America by Sam Champion: Mr. John Benish, owner of the Cook-Illinois Bus Corporation's wife was watching the show and told her husband to give me a school bus to work on! I began working at Northwestern University with Stacy Benjamin, Segal Design Institute Director, as well as Engineering and Northwestern student interns Matt Filak and Tim Healy for two years designing, testing and building different GreenShields prototypes.
Older school buses currently get five to eight mpg. I find that alarmingly wasteful. There are approximately 500,000 school buses on the road each year daily during the school year. GreenShields is trying to increase the gas mileage of school buses because they serve as transportation for thousands of schools across the nation. If buses were made more efficient, we could slow carbon emissions, and because of rising gas prices, schools could save money on gas and have more for education.
I hope that GreenShields inspires kids to use science to help the environment. We only have one Earth -- we should cherish it. Even if you are only 13 years old, you can be a changemaker. I learned this from my experience with GreenShields. Now, as a 16-year-old junior, I look back and remember that it's OK to think of different ideas. Don't be afraid to share them with an adult, and ask your friends and teachers for help. I always say try to see things the way they could be, not the way they are. If you take a risk in trying to make the world a little better, don't be surprised if you discover that you can! Just go for it!
Please see our website for the history and progress of GreenShields.