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Bridging Gaps in Education with STEM and Entrepreneurship Skill-Building Opportunities

The idea that education is extremely important was ingrained in Andria Balogh at a young age. “I grew up … with the mantra ‘school always comes first,’” she says.

All of her experiences have further instilled this point. As a young woman with many educational opportunities afforded her, Balogh couldn’t help but notice the disparities between the educational haves and have-nots and the deficiencies in our own education system.

“I’ve been very lucky … and truly feel like I have the freedom to do what I want to do in life, how I want to do it. Education is not just about learning but is truly about that freedom to be able to do what you want to do with your life,” she says. “I believe that knowledge is power, and I don’t believe our education system is perfect.”

With her knowledge, a background in biomedicine and a taste for entrepreneurship — she founded her first business, Tutoring with Andria, in 2014 — Balogh launched the nonprofit STEM-E Youth Career Development Program “to help fill in the gaps in our education system,” she says.

Andria Balogh

“Our mission is to globally educate youth in critical skills and professional development through STEAM (STEM + art) and entrepreneurship education that is easily accessible and affordable for all,” Balogh says. “We aim to enhance students’ potential for future career success, generating the workforce of the future.”

As a Consortium fellow and member of the class of 2020 at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, Balogh is gaining the knowledge and skills to expand STEM-E’s reach. She recently spoke with us about her desire to improve access to educational and skill-building opportunities, her passion for entrepreneurship and an upcoming partnership with The Consortium.

Have you always had that entrepreneurial drive?

It was a progression. When I was growing up, I didn’t see myself as a leader — although I inevitably wound up in those positions. I took on leadership roles because I had vision, a lot of creativity and interesting ways of thinking about problems. Even when I was in high school, I started several programs because I saw a need for them, but I still never really considered myself a leader or an entrepreneur until I got older.

Knowing that most of your professional background is in biomedicine, what made you decide to get an MBA?

After I earned my master’s degree [in microbiology and immunology], it was a question of where did I want to go next. It was kind of the perfect storm. I started my first tutoring business, and it gave me a taste for all the aspects of running a business, including marketing, advertising, dealing with clients and organization. That was while I was working at the Houston Methodist Hospital.

During this time, I took a class that really gave me a sense of what an entrepreneur was, and I realized that I always was one. I thought I was too afraid of risks and failure but came to realize that I actually wasn’t afraid like I thought I was. I am very much about challenges and pushing boundaries, and I love adventure. I came to realize I really loved running businesses and wanted to be in the C-suite, so that’s why I decided to pursue an MBA.

Did you specifically want to combine your background in science with business?

I had already been combining these fields with the tutoring business, and I started down this same path with STEM-E. The other area I have a lot of experience in is teaching and mentoring. Being in STEM for many years, having access to business and seeing the cross skill set that’s required in science and business, I recognized that a lot of those skill sets were not being taught to youth. I felt that that was such a big gap that needed to be filled at a much younger age.

Why did you choose Rice University for your MBA?

It was a confluence of factors. At the time that I applied, Rice was No. 2 in entrepreneurship programs. That really excited me because I knew that entrepreneurship was a field that I wanted to pursue.

I also wanted to be in Houston to be near family. I knew that pursuing an MBA was going to be financially taxing, but I also loved the fact that, with STEM-E, I already had roots in Houston. I also recognized the burgeoning entrepreneurial community there.

Houston’s kind of this sleeping giant in terms of entrepreneurship and venture capital. To be in the midst of that and develop in that field while watching it grow is really exciting. Rice is such a big part of that because of its involvement in the innovation pathway within Houston. It’s a really exciting time right now, so it’s something I knew that I needed to be a part of.

Tell me more about what sparked your desire to create STEM-E Youth Career Development Program.

I conceptualized STEM-E in September 2017 when I was at a crossroads and [trying to decide] whether or not I should apply to an MBA program. I think any time you’re at that place where you’re asking yourself what direction your life should go in, that’s when destiny naturally formulates.

Students in STEM-E

The other deciding factor was the recognition that [I was] lucky in my youth to have participated in a lot of programs that my tutoring students and other students don’t even know exist.

Also, I’ve been involved in diversity promotion in every field I’ve worked in, and it is a big worry of mine that we’re in 2019 and we still have such big gaps.

Is the organization specifically focused on increasing diversity in STEM and entrepreneurship?  

It is [focused on] generating a more representative demographic for these fields because STEM, entrepreneurship and leadership roles are nowhere near where they need to be demographically to be representative of the population. We offer free activities and advertise to all school districts within the Houston area. We are also expanding into Austin and hope to expand into other major cities throughout the U.S. We’ve been very lucky to get a great amount of diversity in our workshops; it’s very organic.

How is the program structured, and what does it teach?

We teach critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, professional business skills — such as leadership and teamwork — and self-teaching, [meaning] we teach students how to teach themselves. We use STEM and entrepreneurship as a vehicle because those fields tend to utilize all of those skills every day. We have various workshops and speaking engagements, and we have an annual opportunities fair; that’s a one-day event where we have speakers, company exhibitors and hands-on activities. We also have a lot of different specialized workshops [with our partners].

Can you talk a little about the entrepreneurship component of the program?

We have a three-day startup workshop where we teach kids, who are interested in starting their own business, how to assess a problem that they want to solve, ideate a solution and then build an entire business around that in two and a half days. The students build a solution around any field that they’re interested in; some pick STEM fields and some pick non-STEM fields like art or business.

By the end of it, they have a company name, logo, prototype and their two-minute elevator pitch to present their business idea in front of experts in different industries; we have accelerator experts and small business owners come in and help the students really hone their thinking about revenue streams, value proposition and other key business aspects. By the end of the workshop, if the students have an idea they want to further build out, they now have the tools to be able to do so.

What impact is the program having? What are your plans for the future?

It’s been really positive. We’re just over a year old, and we’ve reached 700 to 800 students. We’ve moved from a situation where it was difficult in the first year to get the number of students we wanted to now being fully booked at all of our events every month.

I understand that you’re going to be taking some STEM-E high school students from the Houston Independent School District (ISD) to The Consortium’s Orientation Program (OP) and Career Forum in June. How did this collaboration come about?

I have felt very lucky to be part of The Consortium and be exposed to peers who challenge me to continue to grow and better myself, and I thought about how amazing it would be if high school students could see these individuals. I knew that it would inspire them to keep going and doing well, especially being around individuals who look and think like them. One of the greatest faults in our current society is there are not enough role models that these kids can interact with, so that was my goal with reaching out to The Consortium.

One of Houston ISD’s programs, Emerge HISD, is focused on increasing diversity by targeting high-performing, low-income students. These individuals are juniors and seniors in high school who have been selected as high-performing, low-income students — some who are also first-generation American students from immigrant families. We went through an application process and selected 13 of the top individuals. Those students had all mentioned that they were interested in business.

They will have the opportunity to attend OP to meet and network with students who look and think like them and to understand different fields by attending the workshops. I’m really excited to see what they take away from this experience.

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