• Student Stories
Student Spotlight: Simon Ma '25

Editor's note: This article is also featured in the Perkiomenite, our student newspaper. 

 

It is no secret that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at Perkiomen School. The Institutes are a focal point of academic culture, and the entrepreneurship option draws the largest crowd of students by far. From robotics-based projects to T-shirt branding endeavors, it is hard to come by a student that is not currently in the process of striking out on their own in order to create something new. Many of these enterprises are profit-oriented but in an about-face from tradition, one student has set out to establish his own non-profit to support a drug-free future for young people.

Simon Ma '25 is part of ASSIST, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that matches academically talented, multi-lingual international students with American independent secondary schools. During a one-year school stay, an ASSIST scholar-leader serves as a cultural ambassador actively participating in classes and extracurricular activities at an independent boarding school in the United States. He is from Hannover, Germany, where his parents immigrated to from China. Having gotten to know Simon, his drive to be a self-starter is clearly a constant in his life, as evidenced by his success in a national science competition back home. I had the chance to ask him about his current project, which is still in the early stages of development, but his enthusiasm was tangible.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

 

What is the idea behind your non-profit?

“It is a student-led drug-prevention initiative that aims to mitigate adolescent drug use by educating the young on the risks and the truths of drug usage, and to prepare them for a drug-free future.”


Why did you decide to pursue this mission?

“I’d say there is both a personal and societal side...I did some research and found out that adolescent drug use is omnipresent, not just in America but globally. In America, for example, about 50% of high school students, by the time they graduate, have used drugs, which to me was a very shocking statistic, and for young people especially, the younger you start with drugs, the more prone you are to developing an addiction. The consequences of drug addiction are severe both for society and for the individual. The individual will struggle with financial issues, physical and mental health issues, schoolwork if you are younger, etc. And for society, the financial cost is immense. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year for drug treatment. And the way I see it, there are two ways to treat this: one is by treatment, the other is by prevention work. While there is definitely a case to be made for treatment, especially if you have a lot of people already addicted, I think that prevention is, and the data supports this, much more cost effective. Instead of being reactive, drug prevention, according to the National Health Institute, has a higher return on investment.”


What logistical challenges have arisen in starting this initiative that you did not expect?

“On the legal side, since I’m an international student along with some of the other people I am working with, we are on student visas and not allowed to work here, so there were a lot of complications concerning incorporation with this. Now we should have everything figured out. We’ve decided to incorporate in Germany, because that works for both Americans and people all over the world. Of course, getting everything started, cementing our mission, our vision, really building a strong team and organizational structure takes a lot of time and is definitely very intensive.”


Do you envision this project continuing after Perkiomen, and if so, how do you see it growing and changing?

“For now it’s hard to say how everything is going to play out, since I’m only going to stay for this year probably. The optimal way this could play out is if we partner with ASSIST, the program that sends students here every year and that has partner schools all over America, which would allow us to spread on a national level, and have ambassadors all over, which would be very cool. That would also mean that the program would keep going in America even if members graduate or go back to their home countries. [Having students] going back to home countries also means that we will be active on an international level. I’m definitely going to continue this after I return to Germany, because Germany also faces its own issues regarding drug use.”


What do you want the long-term impact of this project to be?

“The big vision for this of course, is to have an impact on the later lives of adolescents and potentially save them from the risks of drug abuse. We all know what kind of ways that issue can completely tear your life apart. I think just saving a single person from those devastating consequences would be an absolute success.”

 

As we ended the interview Simon said that he wants to leave people with a lot of optimism, and that he encourages them to do their own research on this issue. If are interested in hearing more about his project or getting involved, contact him at sma@perkiomen.org.