We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

An Inside Look at Fluent Futures: An Interview with Founder, CEO, and Bronx Science Graduate Melissa Chowdhury ’24

‘Fluent Futures’ is connecting refugee children with access to transformative English education. In an exclusive interview with the organization’s founder and CEO, Melissa Chowdhury ’24, she explains the inner workings and heart of ‘Fluent Futures.’

Founded in May 2023, Fluent Futures is a student-led nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching refugee children with free English language lessons. The volunteer-based organization relies on the support of its 100+ volunteers and executives in order to run the initiative. From fundraising committees to teachers teaching students in their native tongue, Fluent Futures is one well-oiled machine. 

The Coronavirus pandemic ushered in an era of unprecedented reliance on remote learning. In the modern age of technology, applications such as Zoom and Google Meets allow students and teachers to meet virtually. Fluent Futures has since adopted a similar learning model in order to teach refugee children over online platforms. 

At the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war, the world witnessed the mass migration of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children. 

Founder and CEO Melissa Chowdhury ’24 recognized the disrupted education of thousands of refugee children. She seized the opportunity and founded Fluent Futures to rewrite the narrative. 

“My mom is half Ukrainian, half Russian and my dad is Bengali. My parents immigrated to the U.S. just a few years before I was born, giving me the privilege of growing up enriched by their native tongues,” said Chowdhury. “I began teaching English to my Ukrainian 8-year-old niece, Dasha, over Zoom, because English classes are financially burdensome for refugee families such as hers.”

Enlisting the help of the Bronx Science community, Chowdhury leveraged the skills of her peers in order to build the organization. Fluent Futures steadily grew, expanding to four committees and 150+ volunteer members. In the Fall, Chowdhury will be attending Babson College as part of the Class of 2028. 

Fluent Futures has found success far outside the Bronx Science community. In February of 2024, Chowdhury was scouted by a producer and interviewed by Kelly Clarkson on The Kelly Clarkson Show about her organization. Within the metropolitan area, Chowdhury has also discussed her initiatives with Mayor Eric Adams and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Recently, I had the honor of interviewing Chowdhury to learn more about Fluent Futures.

JACEY MOK: For starters, can you explain what Fluent Future is and what the primary goals of the organization are?

MELISSA CHOWDHURY: “It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping immigrant and refugee children across the world learn English for free. Essentially, what the goal is is to bridge the educational divide for people who are in countries that are struggling academically. A lot of the time, resources like English education are inaccessible or really expensive, especially in places like Ukraine where there is war and a lot of families are being displaced because of it. The original inspiration was because of my relatives in Ukraine who got displaced to Poland. That made me realize that wherever in the world you go, people speak English, but nobody in Poland speaks Ukrainian. English is such a universal language. Anywhere you go, it’s such a valuable skill to have. 

Originally, what I began doing when the war broke out. I wanted to donate money or help them financially. But then I was thinking: donating money is a very temporary, finite resource. But what if I could donate a skill that will serve as an asset for them, so they can get jobs that will pay them much more? Jobs were very difficult for my family to get when they were in Poland because they didn’t speak the language, so they were unemployed for a long time, pushing them into even more financial distress. 

I started teaching English to my niece Dasha. But why just her? She’s not the only one being affected, there are so many other children just like her. I asked her, ‘Well, do you have any friends?’ We started teaching them. 

Russian and Ukrainian are very similar. Most Ukrainians actually speak Russian better than they speak Ukrainian. That’s why a lot of our teachers are actually Russian. 

We host lessons every week. We’re trying to expand to more countries. It’s a little difficult to expand, because I have direct connections with my Ukrainian relatives – that’s how we started with Ukrainian students. But finding people in different countries is challenging.”

JM: I love your mentality of: ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’ You mentioned that you expanded the student base through your relatives. Can you explain more about that and daily class protocols?

MC: “We host classes twice a week and we have three groups: Level 1, level 2, and level 3. It’s mostly categorized by age and their level. We have teachers that host each class every weekend. 

The classes are very flexible. I want teachers to teach in the way that is best for them and best for the students. Each age range has different needs. The younger kids want something more fun and engaging. The older kids have more academic-based curriculum. Each teacher has their own approach, and they’ve crafted that. They’ve been doing this every single weekend for about a year – I started Fluent Futures last year in May! 

Each class varies in size. Our Level 2 class has around four consistent students. With Level 1, we have one girl who we teach completely separately, because she doesn’t know any English yet. With Level 3, we have three to four students. We switch it up depending on their situation. Many kids, because they’re in a disaster situation, sometimes they are unable to conduct classes, so we adjust to that. 

We keep classes small, so that each kid can get individualized, personal practice. 

I was originally thinking of tutoring as many kids as possible, but it’s important to prioritize quality. Each teacher can only give so much attention to each kid. We try to keep the groups as small as possible.”

JM: What about students who are living in disaster regions? How do you maintain communication to ensure they are still getting a quality education while maintaining safety?

MC: “We connect with them every single weekend. When we conduct classes, we check in with them. If anything happens to occur, then we will talk with them and make sure we’re checking up on them. Thankfully, nothing too bad has occurred. The most difficult thing that has occurred is students being displaced. A lot of the time, they’re moving or traveling because of the war.” 

JM: I know a lot of students at Bronx Science volunteer at Fluent Futures, and you’re very proud of the large member base. Could you tell me more about that?

MC: “We have a social media team, a teaching team, and fundraisers and organizers. Right now, we are planning something different. We want to make sure that volunteers have tasks and opportunities to earn their [community service] hours. We are currently working on an influencer program, where people who enjoy being on camera can make videos to promote Fluent Futures on TikTok or Instagram Reels to expand our reach. 

We are also creating a Fundraising team where they are actually able to host events – similar to Key Club – in order to gain funding to donate and support the refugees themselves.”

JM: Could you expand more on the fundraisers?

MC: “We’ve had a Dave & Buster’s Fundraiser and a picnic fundraiser. Recently, all of the documents were passed, so we have 501c(3) status, so we can apply for grants. It’s very exciting, because if we can apply for government grants, then that could bring in a lot more funding and we can expand our program. We’re also thinking of partnering with libraries and schools in New York City, so we can teach ESL (English as a Second Language) children there. 

I grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, where there is a large population of ESL students. Growing up, I’ve seen the disparity that forms in the classroom. The students who don’t speak English at home are new to the material. I’ve always been very passionate about this specifically. 

It’s weird to me to assume that a child can learn any information if they don’t have a stable foundation in the English language first. They’re building off of a foundation that isn’t stable, so it will just push them behind. I’m a firm believer that you must first build a concrete foundation.

If all the lessons are being taught in English, in any subject, you have to know the language first before building off it. I think that’s what happens a lot with ESL children. They’re not fluent in the language itself first. But they’re expected to learn math in English and to learn science in English, simultaneously with native speakers. 

They’re bound to be behind with this instability. Building a concrete foundation first by learning the language is so crucial. 

That’s why I want to work with New York City schools to offer more language support for them.

One factor that inspired Fluent Futures is actually a psychology concept called “Learned Helplessness.” Kids are very vulnerable. If they have repeated failures, while watching their peers or native speakers succeed, they may develop a mentality that they are inferior or less smart or not as capable. They develop a mindset of incapability due to repeated failure. That will stay with them for life. I think that’s a mindset that develops a lot in ESL children. Breaking down the language barrier is the first step in eliminating that.” 

JM: That’s really interesting that you tie psychology into your learning narrative. What are your future plans for Fluent Futures

MC: “The New York program is what we’re planning now, having our volunteers come in-person, as well as expanding to other countries. 

I will be attending Babson College in the fall. Babson is 30% international students who have direct contact with their country. Getting international students involved could connect them to the constituents. I would like to form a collaboration with international students to help the people in their home countries.”

JM: I see you are all over the news. You’ve talked to AOC, Mayor Eric Adams, and have been featured on The Kelly Clarkson Show

MC: “AOC is a strong advocate for immigrants and refugees as well as education. We originally talked about how her story resonates with mine, and how we are often underestimated in our fields. In the field of entrepreneurship and politics, it is dominated by men, and people of color typically aren’t seen in such fields. 

I met AOC after winning the Congressional App Competition, which is a national competition for coding. My friends and I founded an app called CalendAIR. We wanted to help the app gain more recognition and funding, so I applied to a bunch of applications and we won! She’s actually my district’s Congresswoman.

The Kelly Clarkson Show was extremely spontaneous. I was hanging out with my cousins at night. We randomly met this woman and we were having a casual conversation. She was just asking me about what I like to do. My cousin mentioned that I had a nonprofit. 

She said, “Tell me more! I’m actually a producer for The Kelly Clarkson Show. Can I pitch your story to the senior producer? We’d love to have you on the show.”

It was the most spontaneous thing ever.” 

JM: As you go off to college, what are your future plans?

MC: “We would like to keep Fluent Futures as a high school based organization, because many high schoolers look for volunteer opportunities. I would like to give them the opportunity to join Fluent Futures

We will be marketing on TikTok and Instagram Reels, so hopefully students from other schools besides Bronx Science will join – not just in New York, but also nationally.” 

******

Chowdhury hopes to continue the legacy of Fluent Futures at Babson College by expanding the educational programs through the international student population at Babson. 

For her, Fluent Futures is more than an extracurricular activity, it is a bridge to her cultural roots and an opportunity to give back to her international community. With the support of hardworking volunteers and executives, Fluent Futures is here to stay. 

“Overall, our mission is to bridge the educational divide and open the door to opportunity for people who are in a situation where those doors are closed. Giving them that asset and skill will serve and help them no matter where in the world they are,” said Chowdhury.  

Chowdhury has ambitious plans to expand the reach of Fluent Futures to other countries and native tongues besides Ukraine, such as their newly chartered Bangladesh program. If you are interested in volunteering with Fluent Futures as a teacher, fundraiser, or committee member, please see their website for more information.

You can watch Chowdhury on The Kelly Clarkson Show HERE

“My mom is half Ukrainian, half Russian, and my dad is Bengali. My parents immigrated to the U.S. just a few years before I was born, giving me the privilege of growing up enriched by their native tongues. I began teaching English to my Ukrainian 8-year-old niece, Dasha, over Zoom, because English classes are financially burdensome for refugee families such as hers,” said Founder and CEO of Fluent Figures, Melissa Chowdhury ’24.

About the Contributor
Jacey Mok, Staff Reporter
Jacey Mok is an Editor-in-Chief for 'The Science Survey.' She loves the art of masterfully crafting a story and bringing the reader into the scene. She enjoys writing literary journalistic pieces profiling the beauty of places ranging from her childhood hometown of Brooklyn, New York, to Texas. For the past three years, Jacey has explored her love for photography and incorporates this passion into her articles. She loves how photography can capture the essence of an emotion and a moment, and how it can frame a story in and of itself. Outside of the classroom, Jacey enjoys volunteering at local initiatives, reading, and meeting new people.