May 6, 2013

Kindness of strangers

By adcomweb

Support from family, friends and perfect strangers inspires UW sophomore David Coven to a life of giving back

David Coven, UW sophomore

David Coven, UW Sophomore

Nearly every Sunday night during his first quarter at UW, David Coven held court among about 30 bewildered faces in his residence hall basement. With math textbooks propped open on tables, calculators at the ready, and steady, staccato flourishes of a whiteboard pen, David broke down the calculus equations that had been puzzling his peers, sharing his natural talent for numbers.

“Sunday nights were math magic,” says David, a 2012 Costco Diversity Scholar who is double-majoring in mechanical engineering and mathematics. “We were all in the same calculus course, but I was happy to help out my classmates because I believe mastery of the subject comes from teaching.”

That approach in learning quadratic equations is the same David applies toward life: paying it forward makes you richer. By that standard, David is one wealthy 19-year-old.

As a Cleveland High School student, he struggled to find information online about paying for college. So he created, a website devoted to filtering through financial resources. As a new UW student, he started making resource presentations with Scholarship Junkies, a program that hosts scholarship workshops with the UW Dream Project.

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“The notion of giving is different for everyone,” David says. “But for me, I give time. I tutor. I help students get access to scholarships. And I think it all stems from the compassion others have shown me.”

With the kindness of friends, David overcame major obstacles as a teenager. His formative years with his three older sisters were destitute, despite the constant efforts of his mother to pay the bills. Eventually, he became homeless, paid for food with pennies found on street corners and surfed the couches of friends when the family was evicted. Again.

His Cleveland High mentor, Adam Burden, recognized his talents and unofficially adopted David, encouraging an entrepreneurial, compassionate spirit. “It was clear David would succeed if he had stability,” says Adam. “He just needed an opportunity.”

That opportunity led David to the UW, where he has thrived as a student, researcher and speaker. In April, David gave a lecture about overcoming adversity and living life with compassion at the TEDx “Elements of Transition” talk at the UW. He reflected upon how the concept of giving to strangers has become a vibrant thread in his life – with Adam, Costco and his family interweaving as inspiration.

“I know what it means to move through difficulty, to move forward alone,” says David. “But the compassion of strangers has impacted me in such a profound way that I see the role it plays in building a better tomorrow for people. And I just want to keep that cycle of support going forward in whatever way I can.”

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