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Chess team photo
Sharan Subramanian ’24 (center) with fellow volunteers Alex Popescu and Chris Tanaka, both Yale College students.

Making a Difference: Bringing Chess to a Local School

We talked with Sharan Subramanian ’24 about what he has learned teaching chess to students in New Haven’s East Rock Community School chess club.

In this series, Karen Guzman talks to Yale SOM students about how volunteering complements their business education and connects them to their community.

Student: Sharan Subramanian ’24
Organization: East Rock Community Magnet School

What drew you to this particular volunteer opportunity?

I taught chess in Chicago public schools when I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and it was a deeply meaningful and fulfilling experience. In New Haven, I wanted to volunteer in a similar capacity. I reached out to Dwight Hall, Yale’s community service center, which connected me with East Rock Community Magnet School. The school was looking to start an after-school chess club, and I’ve been volunteering there since September.

What are the values that motivate you to volunteer?

I want to make a difference—especially through something I’m passionate about. Chess is one of my passions. Nearly 10 years ago, I started Invest in Chess, a service-based chess advocacy initiative, to help others realize the benefits of chess. Sharing my love for the game has always been really special to me. Building community is also important to me. I’m currently volunteering alongside two Yale undergraduates—Alex Popescu and Chris Tanaka—and we’ve become like brothers. Teaching with them has deepened our friendship and strengthened my connection to the broader Yale community.

How does volunteering complement your MBA education?

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that some of our most important education happens outside of the classroom. While my courses have been an important source of intellectual growth, volunteering has been a key source of personal growth. Volunteering has made me a more empathetic and compassionate individual. 

What’s one surprising thing you have learned through volunteering?

We’re all capable of having a profound impact, particularly on children. The very first day my peers and I taught together, one of the students didn’t know English that well, and she became frustrated. I went to work with her individually. Introducing myself, I communicated with her in Chinese—her native language—speaking a few basic phrases. Her shift in demeanor was sudden. She immediately became excited to learn and work through the challenges. That moment was significant because it verified the words of Nelson Mandela—that if you speak to someone in a language they understand, it goes to their head, but if you speak to someone in their language, it goes to their heart.

What have you learned about the city of New Haven through volunteering?

I’m continuously surprised by what an interconnected city New Haven is. People know each other here, and it always warms my heart to learn of unexpected connections that students, parents, and administrators have with Yale, New Haven, and each other. It is indeed a small world!