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Startup Superstar Nominee: Victoria Chen
November 1st, 2018
By Sarah Hunter

Victoria Chen moved to Houston from her native Boston, Mass. after securing a position with Teach for America in 2011. While teaching biology at Sharpstown High School, she noticed that students weren’t getting good information on the options available to them outside of a traditional four-year degree path. That motivated her to create BridgeYear, a program designed to guide students toward making informed career decisions by letting them experience the full array of opportunities they could pursue. Through the use of “Career Test Drive Fairs”, BridgeYear helps students achieve economic mobility by letting them directly experience careers in some of Houston’s fastest-growing industries. Not only has Victoria’s work helped students achieve success after high school, but it’s also assisted in closing the gaps in Houston’s labor market.

Tell us where you are from and how you ended up in Houston.

I’m originally from Boston and grew up in the Northeast all my life. Teach for America brought me to Houston in 2011, and my students (and the food!!) convinced me to stay.

Who has inspired you most in your life and why?

My students! They constantly astound me with their tenacity, wit, and optimism. Some of the hardest working people I know are my former students and I've been honored to be a part of their journey through high school and beyond.

How do you like to get your day started? Any consistent rituals?

Coffee and a to do list! I like to hit the ground running.

How do you approach leadership?

Being a good leader is like being a good teacher. Good leaders and teachers set high expectations for the team and coach each individual to accomplish the shared vision. It’s all about respect - your team needs to know you’re in it for all the right reasons.

What motivated you to create BridgeYear? What are the next steps and the big hurdles?

After working as a teacher and college counselor… I couldn't shake the feeling that I had done some of my students wrong. Back then, I told them their only option for success was to go to a four-year college. Now, we know enough about the student debt crisis, the rising costs of tuition, and our labor market needs to know that that is simply not true. There are many paths to economic mobility and success. My cofounder, Victoria Doan, and I wanted to better support those students who choose the nontraditional routes, so we started BridgeYear to expose students to the variety of options they have after high school.

When we conduct our Career Test Drive fairs, we hear students say things like “This has really got me thinking about my future.” That’s key. If we can excite students about high-growth careers that will take them and their families out of poverty, we’ve done something right. Our next steps are to bring on corporate partners who are eager to hire and train students straight from high school. We know students are interested in these opportunities, so we just need the right companies on board.

Tell us about your process to design the simulations. How long does it take?

Designing the Career Test Drive simulations is the one of the best parts of my job (it takes me back to my days as a biology teacher creating labs)! The whole process takes three to five months and begins with in-depth research, interviews, and site visits with professionals who currently hold those positions. We try to focus on the core competencies and work environments in each career and then distill and simplify the key responsibilities, so that a high school senior could learn them in under three minutes. That's not an easy feat and we go through several iterations and test runs before we officially launch a new Career Test Drive simulation.

How has working in Houston set you up for success?

Houston is a hotbed of innovation, especially in education and workforce development. There are so many high-quality non-profit programs and businesses and individuals wanting to do good in this city. In addition, Houston is a city rife with employment opportunities, especially in our target middle-skill careers that require less than a four-year degree. BridgeYear would honestly not be where it is today without the generosity and vision of our Houston partners and the rich business environment of the city.

What are your Houston top three? Where do you spend your free time? 

100% Taquito, Phoenicia, and Les Givral's! I'm a huge fan of Houston's food scene, so in my free time, you'll probably find me exploring new eats, visiting my favorite restaurants and food trucks, or attempting to cook myself!

Find Bridge Year on Twitter
 @bridgeyearHTX and Instagram @bridgeyear

The 2018 HYPE Impact Awards will be held Nov. 8. Click here for information and tickets. 

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