Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

IMSA Students Embark on Global Humanitarian Mission

By IMSA Spanish faculty member José Palos and IMSA Student Jake Ayala ‘10

IMSA students embarked on a humanitarian mission to Ecuador and returned with lessons of a lifetime.

"More than anything else I've done at IMSA, this trip allowed me to see that individuals and communities are strengthened when one contributes to the common good, as reflected in IMSA’s belief statements,” said IMSA Junior Sharada Dharmasankar after returning from a three-week humanitarian mission this summer in Ecuador.  

She was not alone.  The IMSA trip included six other students and two alumni, Kelly Heuser, '07 and Joe Baker, '05. They helped Spanish faculty member José Palos organize and run the IMSA trip which, in its second year, has already made its impact felt. To view photos from the mission, visit

Highlights of this summer's action-packed experience included building a house for a homeless family displaced in recent floods, teaching at a rural school, donating clothes and hundreds of shoes (donated by IMSA's Key Club) to needy children, volunteering at an orphanage, and assisting with a medical unit in a banana-growing area.  

In addition, IMSA students made deep and lasting friendships with Ecuadorian teenagers with whom they now keep in frequent touch.  Inspired by IMSA’s renewed strategic thrust on global networking, advancing the human condition, and making learning experiential, this opportunity allows these IMSA volunteers to expand their classroom far beyond our normal borders.  

Students, staff and alumni all agreed that the experience was instructive and immensely beneficial.  

"Seeing the joy of this family once we finished construction of their house was priceless-- and it made me appreciate much more everything I have," said IMSA Junior Shivam Vedak.  

Matt McDermott noted that living with an Ecuadorian host family for three weeks was also an eye-opening experience.

"Not only did my Spanish improve drastically, but I learned to understand their culture and way of life from the inside, not just as an outsider," he said. “It is opportunities such as these that expand your understanding and appreciation for people who can be very different from you."  Andrew Heuser, in turn, saw the collaboration with local volunteers and the many new friends he made in Ecuador as the highlight of his trip.  

All seemed to agree that by combining service learning with an international experience, this unique opportunity made their learning real and brought them a step closer to another strategic objective, namely that "the life work of each IMSA graduate is recognized for significantly improving the way people live."