Standout Oakland student 18-year-old Ahmed Muhammad had his choice of universities to choose from, as he was accepted to all 11 colleges he applied to, including Harvard and Princeton.
But ultimately, the Oakland Technical High senior will remain in the Bay Area, as he’s decided to go with his first choice “dream school.”
On Monday, Muhammad appeared on KTVU’s “The Nine” and announced his decision on live television.
“You know it was a tough choice for sure. All of these schools I applied to, they’re all amazing schools, but I decided that the best university for me for these next four years is Stanford University,” the teen said.
It came down to the wire, with the enrollment deadline set for Monday. “Yesterday I woke up ready to commit to Harvard but at the end of the day, I went with my gut,” Muhammad told KTVU anchor Mike Mibach, adding, “Stanford’s always been a dream for me.”
Muhammad’s extraordinary academic achievements will make him the first Black male valedictorian at his school. He’s finishing his four years at Tech with a cumulative 4.73-grade point average (on track for a 5.0 GPA for his senior year). He also received a score of 1540 on his SATs, with a perfect 800 in the Math section and a 740 in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section.
Outside the classroom, Muhammad has been an accomplished athlete, a key member of the Bulldog’s varsity basketball team since his sophomore year.
KTVU has followed the teen’s journey and first featured him in a story last summer, not long after he launched a non-profit aimed at helping Oakland kids get hands-on access to science learning. His company, Kits Cubed, has since donated and distributed thousands of his science kits to Oakland schools.
Oakland Tech’s Ahmed Muhammad is running point on science awareness
Muhammad said he’s never shied from dreaming big as he credited much of his success to the support he’s received from his parents. “My parents did a good job of showing me that whatever dreams that are out there I can see myself accomplishing, then I can accomplish it, and there’s a path to it,” the teen said.
Ahmed Muhammad couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were way too young to be so convicted. Ayla was 8 and Ahmeer 6. They should be all ’bout that wonder and discovery life. But in the midst of the pandemic, hanging out with his niece and nephew as they quarantined together, he brought up science. And they rejected it like a chase-down block from LeBron James.
I don’t like science. I’m not good at science.
No way Muhammad — a rising senior at Oakland Tech and backup point guard — was going to let that slide. So they went to the backyard and picked some branches and flowers. They filled a cup with water then poured some oil on top of that. Then they stuck the twigs inside the cup and put a jar upside down to cover it all like a dome. And they waited. A couple of hours later, droplets of water appeared on the glass jar. There was only one explanation for how the water escaped from beneath the oil: through the plant.
Scientific conclusion: plants “breathe out” water to release condensation through their leaves.
Next were the pop rockets. He got a couple of empty film canisters and put water inside. He drew some templates on the paper for them to color and cut; those were the rocket fins and the nose cone. When the designs were ready, he dropped in Alka-Seltzer tablets and closed the lid. And they waited.
“It’s loud and it goes up high,” Muhammad said. “They were so happy. They were stoked. That was the one that really got them into it.”
He pulled it off. Muhammad revealed to them the awesomeness of science. They were hype for the next experiment: How does a kaleidoscope work?
It’s the wonder in their eyes that filled his heart. It’s the energy of their curiosity that made his day. So he shared the wealth.
Muhammad is strictly adhering to shelter-in-place and social distancing measures. But that gave him quite a bit of free time. So he decided to help other students, like his niece and nephew, who might have the wrong impression about science.
The result of his summer project is Kits Cubed. It’s a non-profit he created to help kids fall in love with science while distance learning. He spent the last $200 of his savings to buy the materials for these science kits that he can send to kids. Each kit comes with three science experiments — the rocket, the kaleidoscope and the plant maze. The materials that are uncommon or hard to get come in the kit, along with the instruction manual he made.
He made 60 kits and donated them to students at Piedmont Avenue Elementary. His website is currently selling three kits online, each with three science experiments. The classic bundle has a rock-candy experiment, a potato battery and a catapult made of popsicle sticks and rubber bands. The electricity and magnetism kit comes with instructions for making an electromagnet, sending a telegraph and building an electric motor. He also has the original kit with the rocket, kaleidoscope and plant maze.
Each kit is $12. He accepts donations and sells T-shirts so he can provide kits free to those who can’t pay.
“He definitely needs to be highlighted,” said Karega Hart, the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Oakland Tech. “He is super positive. He tutors kids. He is really rare. We don’t celebrate kids like that enough, but we’ve got to make kids like that cool.”
Speaking of cool, what makes Muhammad’s story unique is one of his inspirations: Akintunde Ahmad.
Ahmad, who graduated Oakland Tech in 2014 and became a viral sensation when word got out he had a 5.0 GPA while playing baseball for the Bulldogs, was accepted into numerous elite schools. He announced he was attending Yale on “The Ellen DeGeneres” show.
Guess who was a middle-school student watching? Muhammad. And he thought it was so cool this fellow kid from Oakland was being praised for scholastic excellence. He was impressed enough to reach out to Ahmad on Instagram and establish a rapport. That’s how the first science kits ended up going to Piedmont — because Ahmad’s mother is the principal there.
“There is no better feeling than inspiring the next generation to pursue their dreams, especially when those dreams revolve around education,” said Ahmad, who got a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and penned an article for The Atlantic about the contrasting fates of himself and his older brother.
“Showing our Black youth that being educated is something to be proud of, and being a walking example of what being comfortable in your own skin looks like, has always been a goal of mine. The impact of me sharing my journey towards higher education lets you know how few role models Black youth from Oakland have. I hope that students like Ahmed can continue paving the way for the next generation and let them know you can dress how you want, be a standout athlete, have a social life, and still excel in your academic pursuits.”
Ahmad, known by most in Oakland as Tunde, was popular socially. He was an athlete with friends all over campus and his own attractive style. People knew he was smart and had good grades, but when the news of just how good a student he was got out, many were stunned because he didn’t fit the stereotype of a bookworm.
Muhammad is cut from a similar cloth, just with a different bent.
He is one of 10 returning seniors on the Bulldogs, who have their eye on a Division II state championship if basketball season happens. At 5-foot-11 and about 160 pounds, Muhammad is a good player who could continue to the next level. He’s got a good handle and a nice shot and thrives at maneuvering around screens. He’s a scoring point guard who uses his speed to get downhill well. He loves to stop on a dime and hit the mid-range jumper and gets off the ground pretty high.
But there is a reason he comes off the bench. He misses practice too much. The role of a point guard is too important. Coach Hart, who played point guard in his day, can’t give the keys to the kingdom to a player who might miss a practice or two a week or be late. But Hart isn’t mad at Muhammad. Coming off the bench isn’t a punishment. Hart will FaceTime his guard when he misses practices and catch him up, even pull out the whiteboard to draw up the plays they worked on. Hart does it because he loves the reasons Muhammad is sometimes unavailable.
The reasons? Multivariable Calculus at Berkeley City College. Intro to Astronomy at College of Alameda. General Physics 2 with Calculus at Merritt College.
“So far in high school,” Muhammad said, “I’ve taken seven or eight college classes — not including AP classes at Tech.”
The days would be long for Muhammad. He’d wake up and train at the YMCA in downtown Oakland and then go to school. He’d skip sixth period to head to a local junior college where he was taking some advanced classes, because the high school options weren’t satiating. Then after class he’d hustle to basketball practice. When he got home, at about 9 p.m., is when he’d do homework.
Hart tells the story of his team being in the library for study hall a few years ago. A group of students came in, juniors and seniors, mostly White kids, and were pointing at Muhammad.
There he goes. That’s him right there.
The coach didn’t know what they were talking about. He’d known Muhammad since he was in middle school. But he was playing close attention to learn about his new point guard. He listened closer to their murmuring until he heard what they were saying. That’s the freshman kid in our calculus class who knows more than the teacher.
“He’s taken every math class there is,” Hart said. “He’s probably got enough units to have an AA right now. There are 4.0 students and then there are students like Ahmed where 4.0 just isn’t good enough. He is an athlete but he’s a student first. He’ll put the basketball down before he allows his grades to drop.”
His dad — Rahman Muhammad, an East Oakland native who has spent decades as an Oakland firefighter while also doing real estate — has a saying he tells his son every morning he wakes up. The world is calling on men. To his sister, Athena, pops says the same thing. The world is calling on women. Their mom, Sang Sok, is an immigrant from Cambodia who fled during the war and came to California when she was 12 and grew up in West Oakland
His parents went with the kitchen sink philosophy to development. “Everything was thrown at us,” Muhammad said. He took a chess class. He played sports. But he got hooked on science in an after-school program at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in West Oakland. It was called S.E.E.K. — Summer Engineering Experience for Kids. They built a solar-powered car. A fuel cell. A plane. They learned the science behind it and got to make stuff with their hands. He was a kinesthetic learner so he was captivated.
He was determined to share that same captivation with his niece and nephew, before they were completely discouraged from this whole segment of knowledge and industry. In the era of Black lives matter, Muhammed wants the science and math communities to be more inclusive of African Americans. He also wants to make sure youth understand it’s an option.
He remembers being 7 years old and taking a human anatomy class and declaring he wanted to be a surgeon, only to have the teacher tell him he can’t. He is often the only Black person in his class and constantly deals with the microaggressions from people surprised by his intelligence.
The data backs him up. According to a Pew Research Center study published in 2018, Blacks hold nine percent of the STEM jobs and Latinx workers hold seven percent. A 2019 study published in Educational Researcher found that 40 percent of Black students majoring in STEM degrees change majors and another 26 percent drop out. One of the reasons cited is discrimination and bias in the STEM industry.
“There is something going on where we’re being discouraged from science and math,” Muhammad said. “There are so many layers to it. One, we don’t have access to science early on. We aren’t being inspired by science. Also, there are not enough Black teachers. I had one Black teacher in the first grade and one Black teacher in high school.
“Another thing is we aren’t learning about our history. Everyone else gets to learn about Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison. But we don’t get to learn about the many great Black contributions to science and engineering. We don’t learn about Percy Julian, Garrett Morgan, Benjamin Banneker, Dr. Mae C. Jemison, Lewis Latimer. We might get to learn about George Washington Carver. But that’s it. We don’t learn about these all-time great scientists. What we do see is LeBron and Steph Curry, so we want to be athletes.”
So Muhammad is doing his part to make sure scientists, and science, are seen.
By creating science kits so students can experience the amazement he did. By becoming the valedictorian of Oakland Tech, which he’s on schedule to do. By hopefully — HOPEFULLY — going to college at Stanford. He’s applying early for his dream school. He’s been groomed to compete at the highest levels of academia.
His dad has another saying. It’s actually a question. He and his sister have heard it every drive to school since kindergarten.
Why do we go to school?
They both know the answer. It’s practically the family motto. Now the nieces and nephews are hearing it, too.
To be prepared to compete with the best in the world.
“Plan A for him is being a surgeon,” Hart said. “It’s beautiful for a Black kid to think like that.”
Hey everyone, my name’s Eli! I graduated from East Bay Innovation Academy in Oakland this past Spring, and I’m now a freshman at UCLA. I’ve attended Oakland schools my whole life, and for years I’ve been frustrated by the unequal educational opportunities afforded not only to many of my friends and classmates, but to students throughout the city. I joined Kits Cubed hoping that, for the first time in my life, we had a real chance to close that gap, and give every student in Oakland and beyond the opportunities and resources that they need to become the Scientists, Engineers, and Leaders that they are all capable of becoming.
Hi, my name is Jordan! I graduated from Oakland Technical High School in the spring of 2020. I decided to take a gap year when the pandemic hit before I start my freshman year at the University of Oregon. This year allowed me to start working with Kits Cubed to help our young learners get access to hands on science experiments. Because of the pandemic, the learning gap has widened, with black and brown and low income youth falling further behind. I hope my work at kits cubed can help them contribute to closing that gap.
Hi, my name is Langston! I graduated Oakland Technical High School in May, and i’m currently taking a gap year before I attend Stanford University next Fall. In the meantime, I’m facilitating all graphic design work for Kits Cubed, as well as working as a tutor for other students in Oakland, interning with the ACLU, and coordinating free food drop-offs for seniors in my neighborhood. I’m deeply passionate about justice and equity, and I wanted to work with Kits Cubed to ensure equal access to one of the most essential resources: education.
Hi everyone, my name is Navya! I grew up in the Bay Area and I am now a junior at Scripps College. As someone who has always been interested in science, I am painfully aware of the unequal education opportunities that some of my peers have endured. I joined Kits Cubed to help make a difference in STEM education and provide students with more equitable opportunities and resources. I believe that Kits Cubed can give students the chance to fulfill their potential and become the next generation of STEM leaders.
Hi, my name is Myles and I was born and raised in Oakland, California. I am a junior at Bishop O’Dowd High School. I’ve gone to Oakland schools my entire life and love the culture I was raised around. I wanted to join Kits Cubed because I have always been bothered by the inequality in not only the Oakland school system but the Bay Area in general. I saw what Kits Cubed was doing and what they stood for and wanted to be a part of it helping to build the leaders of tomorrow.
Hey, I’m Jessica Ramos, I am a Senior at Skyline High School! I have attended Oakland Public schools all my life and I have seen students lose their hope in STEM, and not wanting to continue their dreams because of the lack of resources at schools. I hope to see Kits Cubed bring science to more young and curious students everywhere!
Hey everyone, my name’s Hugo! I graduated from Saint Mary’s College High School in Berkeley this past Spring, and I am now studying Environmental Earth and Soil Sciences at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. As a STEM major in college and an enthusiast throughout my entire education, I have seen the lack of equal representation in my classes. Kits Cubed has the ability to try and help introduce hands-on STEM learning into the communities that deserve it most in an affordable way. Currently I’m serving as the Development Coordinator, working to expand our presence up and down the West Coast along with trying to use more sustainable materials throughout the assembly process!
Hi, I’m Grace! I am a senior at Oakland Tech and have been a student at public schools in Oakland my entire life. I have been passionate about science since elementary school and have explored it primarily through environmental camps and experiments. I joined the Kits Cubed team so I can help other kids who have an interest in science but don’t have many resources to explore it. I care deeply about educational equity and understand the difficulty of getting hands-on education experiences in public schools, which is why I find Kits Cubed’s mission of making science more accessible so important.
Interested in Joining the Team?
Kits Cubed is always looking to bring on more bright, passionate individuals who share our mission and our values. If you think you’d make a good fit here at Kits Cubed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us about yourself! We look forward to hearing from you!