“Communities of Hope” features Detroiters from communities of color who have been looking for ways to persevere during the pandemic.
Kids excitedly watch and cheer as Zahraa Mougnieh, founder and owner of Kid Chemist, drops a gummy bear in heated potassium chlorate in a test tube creating a flaming exploding gummy bear.
Mougnieh grew up in Dearborn. She graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor of science in psychology as a predental student in 2019. While in college, she found it difficult to understand chemistry. So she wanted to do something about it.
“I was struggling so much with it, so I took a step back and started teaching myself. I’m a very hands-on learner and I was getting everything right away and I fell in love with it.”
Mougnieh says she realized if she was struggling, other kids might be too. She wondered if an earlier introduction to chemistry would help.
“I wanted to create something that the schools and the next generations are all lacking.”
From teaching herself to others
So in October 2019 during her gap year from college, she opened Kid Chemist, a learning program that introduces chemistry to kids like her nieces in elementary school.
Mougnieh was just 22 years old when she opened the business. She’s now 25.
“I like to decorate it as much as I can. So it has a huge Periodic Table of Elements right here. ‘You think like a proton and stay positive,’ something that the kids get to enjoy reading,” she describes.
Mougnieh gives me a tour of her business, an office space with small rooms located on Monroe Street in Dearborn. She tells me there are many doctors and dentists on this street.
“Once kids walk in, they get to come into our kitchen area where they get dressed. This is where we keep the lab coats so they’ll grab their sizes, grab gloves, grab glasses and head to a room.”
Each of her students gets a personalized lab coat.
Sonia Salman’s kids, second grader Celine and first grader Julia, have been taking part in the program for a year and a half.
“I love the experiments that she does, and the way that they learn is actually really fun,” Salman says. “They come home and they’re saying these words that I have no idea what they even are. I have to look them up myself.”
Celine and Julia especially enjoy the guest speaker series. In a recent one with a dentist, they got to practice making a mold of teeth.
Salman says Mougnieh is passionate about teaching chemistry.
“It’s really hard to find someone that can teach your kids out of passion. And it’s really amazing to see how much my kids have learned through this and loved learning through her program.”
Mougnieh says her program extended to field trips, tutoring in other subjects and even birthday parties. Since opening the program, she’s had about 500-600 students ranging from four to 14 years old.
Finding new ways to connect
During the pandemic, however, her business came to a standstill during the March 2020 lockdown. Mougnieh had to find creative ways to offer her services to kids. She began dropping off at-home chemistry kits and providing online afterschool programs and tutoring.
She says in the early days of COVID-19, people were afraid.
“We had to go fully online and it was hard. I was delivering kits, so we still wanted to keep our merits of it being hands-on. So I would deliver kits to the houses and we would do the experiments online but people were still scared of just getting that box in the door.”
Mougnieh says there were many times she wanted to give up but she didn’t.
“I saw kids’ reactions. They had such a positive impact from Kid Chemist. So honestly, I didn’t want to give up. There were times where there was nothing I could do. I think it was out of my control. So I just had to be patient.”
In October 2021, Kid Chemist resumed in-person afterschool classes and having spring, fall and summer camps.
“Zahraa represents our future”
In March 2022, Mougnieh attended the Arab American Women’s Business Council Annual Signature Event which brought Arab American businesswomen together to showcase their work and accomplishments.
At the event, the businesswoman of the year, Lola Elzein, Owner of Venture Title Agency, LLC, gave Kid Chemist a shout-out.
“So she mentioned Kid Chemist, and I was in tears,” says Mougnieh.
She felt seen. As a young entrepreneur, she says people don’t always take her seriously.
“Every day I struggle with something. If I fail, or if I do something, I’m back up, trying again. I don’t think anybody should give up especially being an Arab American woman. It’s amazing. It’s very honorable I think.”
Jumana Judeh is the founder of the Arab American Women’s Business Council. She started the organization in 2007 to support Arab American businesswomen. She now serves as the treasurer of the Executive Board of Directors. She says the organization provides mentorship and job development.
Judeh says she met Mougnieh at the signature event which hosted 300 people in person after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.
“It was very difficult in the old days for women to get out of the house and do things, but now we have a new generation. We have the millennials who are just so full of energy like Zahraa. These women are starting their businesses at an amazing rate.”
She says Mougnieh is an example of what the organization stands for.
“Zahraa, to me, represents our future. You can be a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, but you can also be a CEO,” she says.
Mougnieh says she hopes to expand Kid Chemist worldwide. She recently launched chemistry kits online which ship throughout the U.S. She also posts informational videos on TikTok and Instagram, reaching about 2,000 followers on each social media platform.
Mougnieh says the best part of her business is working with kids.
“It’s never a dull moment. You never know what the next thing they’re gonna say, or the comments they say and it’s just hilarious. It’s the best thing ever.”
Mougnieh went from struggling with chemistry in college to becoming a young entrepreneur during the pandemic. She learned that sometimes you have to take things into your own hands with lab coats and test tubes to make a difference.
Listen: How a Dearborn entrepreneur got kids excited about science.
Photos courtesy of Nargis Hakim Rahman/WDET, Zahraa Mougneih, Sonia Salman and Arab American Women’s Business Council.