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Learn to Dream

Lindsey W. Kouvaris
Feb 7, 2023

Before Naeem Turner-Bandele ’18 was born, his parents reached out to Harvard University to request an application. Admission to Harvard was never their end goal. Rather, they hoped to find out what admissions officers valued in applicants so they could guide and encourage their son in pursuit of a rigorous and well-rounded education.

Naeem at Universal Studios, 2002

Over the years, Turner-Bandele excelled academically. His talents and interests blossomed outside the classroom as well. As a child, he loved to read and remembers diving into comic books, drawn to the ways in which the characters navigated real life problems. “In Spider-Man,“ he recalls, “Peter Parker is constantly worrying about money and how he’s going to keep a roof over his head.” While the stories were fantastical, the connection between literacy and problem solving sparked something in Turner-Bandele.

When it came time to apply to college, he didn’t knock on Harvard’s door, but rather on Santa Clara’s. He was drawn to SCU’s Jesuit values and its emphasis on social justice and educating the whole person.

As he’d hoped, Santa Clara not only challenged him academically but gave Turner-Bandele ample opportunity to pursue interests outside the classroom. The electrical engineering major quickly became involved with the National Society of Black Engineers, serving as the SCU chapter president from 2016-2017 before going on to be the Region VI Chairperson. He was also active with Engineers Without Borders, a national organization that helps communities in need find sustainable solutions to basic infrastructure challenges. 

Looking back, Turner-Bandele calls his SCU experience “phenomenal.”  With unabashed enthusiasm, he declares, “I loved every minute of it!”

"When parents are engaged, their kids are more likely to read and live up to their potential. When a child can read, they can do anything."

Naeem Turner-Bandele ’18
Naeem (center) following 2018 Commencement at SCU.

Audacious Possibilities

Though his academic pursuits filled his weekdays, Turner-Bandele turned his attention to a different outlet on the weekendswriting. All his life, books had opened a world of possibilities. He knew what a powerful tool they could be for setting a child up for success. Just as the adventures of Peter Parker had sparked his imagination as a young boy, Turner-Bandele wanted to inspire kids with stories of creativity and ingenuity. 

Ultimately, it was a series of tweets on parental engagement shared by his father, Nathaniel Turner, that motivated Turner-Bandele to write his first book. Mr. Turner’s daily tips outlined simple ways for parents and kids to connect, such as, “Sit down and eat dinner with your child,” and delved into more aspirational parenting goals like, Leave your child with a gift that lasts a lifetime. Teach them how to dream. Life is empty without them.”

Over time, these thoughtful tidbits came together for Turner-Bandele as an idea for a children’s book. “What Are We Gonna Do Today?” was self-published in 2015, when he was a sophomore at SCU.

The book offers 52 ways for parents and young children to connect with one another and build memories through weekly activities and projects. Though it’s designed to combat boredom and encourage creativity, the author’s ultimate goal is to bring parents and children together. For Turner-Bandele, the path to literacy often begins with parental involvement. 

“When parents are engaged,” Turner-Bandele says, “their kids are more likely to read and to live up to their full potential. When a child can read, they can do anything.”

Turner-Bandele’s passion for literacy continued to percolate and in 2020, amid the chaos of a global pandemic, he penned a second book—this time in collaboration with his father. “The Amazing World of STEM,” follows Stuart Tyson Elmo Morgan, or “STEM” as his family and friends call him, on a journey to help his father persevere at work after an accident. Fueled by his desire to help others, young STEM opens a world of endless dreams and opportunities. As he works to engineer a solution for his father, STEM reminds us that the best ideas often come from those who dare to dream fearlessly. As Turner-Bandele’s father notes, “all things are possible…our best life experiences originate from keeping alive the childhood spirit of imagining the most audacious possibilities.”


Naeem and his dad -- Naeem (left) and his dad on Naeem's 19th birthday.Naeem (left) and his dad on Naeem's 19th birthday.

More to Come

Now a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, Turner-Bandele’s research centers around energy resources and the transition to power systems with a lower carbon footprint. He is also keenly interested in reducing energy disparities in underserved communities, relentlessly working toward his goal of making the world a better place.

Much like his young character “STEM,” who was motivated by love and curiosity to help those around him, Turner-Bandele is led by passion and the drive to make a difference. Through both engineering and writing, Turner-Bandele is not only bringing together his love of engineering and his passion for literacy, he is modeling a way forward through creative problem solving.

Book cover: The Amazing World of STEM

This summer, Turner-Bandele and his father look forward to publishing “The Amazing World of STEM: Homes for All,” the second book in the STEM series. With big dreams and strong determination, STEM and his classmates turn their attention to the global housing crisis. Tired of waiting for adults to do what’s needed, they put their heads together to offer solutions today. Find out what happens when the book comes out June 6, 2023.

Turner-Bandele’s titles are available through all major book retailers.


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