A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Marina Kirova

A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Marina Kirova

“It is never too late or too early to learn.”

This is the motto Marina Kirova lives by. The Portage resident serves the community as Program Director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana.

Kirova and her family moved to Portage in 2009 from Macedonia. 

“It is a beautiful country. However, politics haven’t always been the best,” she said. “I didn’t see a lot of opportunities for growth for my kids, so we decided to come to the U.S.”

A great struggle that Kirova faced was finding childcare for her children.

“I started working at the Boys & Girls Club when we came to Portage. As a new immigrant, I was looking for a job,” she explained. “I didn’t have anybody around me to help me with my kids. I was looking for a place where I could safely leave my kids.” 

She started working at the organization for only 10 hours a week, so she had to pick up two other jobs to make ends meet. Over time, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana saw Kirova’s potential.

“From there, the organization noticed that I could do a good job at the club, so they offered more and more hours,” Kirova said. “I’ve been working there since 2010. I was cross-trained in all areas of the club, but my specialty is in STEM. In 2018, I was promoted to Program Director. I am also serving as a STEM training specialist for the entire organization.”

Kirova has always been interested in STEM since she was young. Her interests at her job flow into her everyday life as well.

“Anything STEM related is what I like to do in my spare time. I am always researching and reading STEM literature. I love tinkering. Recently, I got a laser engraver, and it is a wonderful machine. I want to start laser engraving and 3D printing,” said Kirova. 

One of her greatest passions is being able to share her knowledge with students. Kirova is always touched when former students come back years later to tell her that she inspired them to pursue studies in STEM.

“I recently had a child who saw me on the street. He used to come to the Boys & Girls Club in middle school. Now, he is graduating high school, and he told me that he is about to pursue his degree in computer science at Purdue,” she said. “He was like, ‘Do you remember how we were in the computer lab all the time? Well, you inspired me to continue in that direction!’ I was about to cry. Those moments make me happy.”

Her children also have followed in her footsteps and are focusing on STEM throughout their own education.

“My daughter is studying mechanical engineering at Columbia University in New York. My son is a student at Portage High School. Both of them were part of the Robotics Club at school. I am always happy to inspire kids to join the Robotics Club,” said Kirova.

While guiding children to choose STEM fields in the future is part of what fuels Kirova’s passion, what really ignites her flame are the small, daily interactions with students where she can make anything into a STEM lesson.

“On a bus ride to a field trip, some of the kids weren’t sitting straight,” she said. “I sat near them and asked whether they felt the push when the driver hit the breaks. They were like, ‘Yeah!’ I asked if they knew what that was. They said they didn’t, and I told them that it was called inertia.

“I started a full blown physics lesson on the bus!” Kirova continued. “It wasn’t planned. It was fun. The kids were interested because it was something new. On the way back, every time the bus driver stopped, the kids were like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is inertia!’ I love seeing the impact when they are learning something, those a-ha moments. For me, it is very important that they can apply whatever they learn in the classroom to a real life situation. That’s when the learning actually happens.”

When Kirova reflects on her journey as an educator, she wants to thank the educators in Portage that have supported her and her children since 2009.

“I would thank the schools in Portage. They are why I came here,” said Kirova. “I researched and found out the schools are really good here. I wanted to provide that opportunity for my kids. They helped my kids grow. I am mostly thankful to Crisman Elementary School. Those teachers, especially Mr. Hufford, rock. They helped me a lot when I needed it the most. They were there at the beginning when it was really, really hard. Willowcreek Middle School and Portage High School, too.”

She also shouted out Willowcreek Middle School and Portage High School and wanted to thank her fellow co-workers for their impact on her children, too.

“My kids benefited a lot from the club because they didn’t speak English when we first moved here. Just in the first semester of them being in school as English Language Learners, they improved a lot with the program at the Boys & Girls Club. They became students that didn’t know how to speak English to excellent students.”

Interested in the programs that Kirova leads at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana? Check out https://www.bgcgreaternwi.org/ for more information.