ON A QUEST TO BRIDGE THE EDUCATION GAP: Infuse Program Foundation Founder & Executive Director AJ Thomas (left) and Co-Founder & Director of Corporate Partnerships JL Hernandez (right) at 3rd Annual Symposium of Ideas event hosted at Box Headquarters in Los Altos, CA.

ON A QUEST TO BRIDGE THE EDUCATION GAP: Infuse Program Foundation Founder & Executive Director AJ Thomas (left) and Co-Founder & Director of Corporate Partnerships JL Hernandez (right) at 3rd Annual Symposium of Ideas event hosted at Box Headquarters in Los Altos, CA.

Our Story

Instead of boring you with details about who we are I'd much rather tell you why we decided to embark on this journey. It's far more interesting than any accolade or designation I can give you on paper and quite frankly, the most important reason why we got started and why we do what we do here at Infuse Program Foundation.

How We Got Started

Now you have to understand that when I speak about education, I’m not just talking about the requirements needed for a young person to get into college. It’s something much more specific. It’s the disparity of resources and educational programs when geography comes into play.

I learned about this firsthand in 2009.

During that year, I spent some time looking into volunteer opportunities to see what the educational landscape was like here in the Silicon Valley. After meeting with several instructors in various school districts, I stumbled upon a high school on the east side of San Jose and knew this was where I needed to be.

I spent the first few months mentoring a group of students that had varying backgrounds. I worked with students who experienced the death of a sibling due to gang violence and those who weren’t even close to having a high enough GPA to graduate. Some of the kids were adding the responsibility of parenthood to their early life repertoire.

It was a stark difference from the schools I met with on the west side of the 101 freeway. No wealthy parents, no fancy incubator programs, none of the glitz and glamour of the Silicon Valley.

This sent me on a brainstorming session talking to my own college professors and other school districts superintendents about how we approached resources and programs that taught life-skill and career education for low-income high school students who weren’t necessarily in a place where there was plenty of technology resources. And most importantly, where college was not their immediate next step.

That’s how Infuse Program was born.

What is Infuse?

Infuse Entrepreneurship is a program that brings entrepreneurship opportunities to inner-city schools to show students how they can use their own ideas to pursue making the world a better place. Our focus is in the heart of inner-city communities where you will find 80% population to be of mostly hispanic and asian descent. Our students are in most cases products of the first generation immigrant family and typically have less than desirable GPA and attendance records.

We strive to engage these students by bringing real-world objectives and challenges into the classroom. Students participating in this program get a year of exposure from industry professionals that are living and breathing the workforce now. They are armed with a challenge in mind—to build a product or a service that addresses an issue being faced in either their local or wider communities.

Infuse Entrepreneurship gives every student the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. We teach that entrepreneurship is a mindset and that this mindset can be tapped into with even the simplest tasks they face day to day in their educational environment and in life.

It’s amazing to see valuable skills they acquire in the process. Skills like: teamwork, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, mathematics, written communication, computer science, and public speaking.

Students then present and develop the products they come up with into prototypes that are judged by community business leaders in a Shark Tank setting.

But here is the twist, instead of competing for funding, they actually compete for scholarships and internships that help keep them motivated about pursuing continuing education or a higher education. We've held this event for four years in a row with support from our trusted advisors, stellar teaching teams and amazing corporate partners.

Some of our students couldn't even pronounce the word entrepreneurship on the first day of our Ignite! sessions. Though you'd never know this when you see them at the end of the school year on stage and presenting their own ideas of how to make the world a better place.

Since we started in 2010, some of the most amazing products include reinventions of eco-friendly compartment shopping bags, green cup holders you can wear as a bracelet, cookies for animals with diabetes, earthquake alert apps, jewelry and clothing made with recyclable material, and portable solar power chargers. But it's not just the inventions that get the attention. It's the marked change we see from day one to Pitch Night that keeps us fueled to do it over and over again year after year.

Why It's Important

Based on my experience with these students, I feel that we must look at how our educational communities are arming our students. Are they arming them with vast opportunities other than just the A-G requirements that are laid out for a path to college?

Instead of instituting college as the only right of passage, we should be aiming to create future generations of life-long learners. People who have the gumption to take risks and solve problems that help uplift other communities.

So whether the path is traditional college or technical career institutes, or even just taking a risk and starting their own company through an entrepreneurial venture, we need to encourage programs that teach mentality versus just pure technicality.

We need to infuse a mindset of making a difference in America’s educational infrastructure by creating opportunities for students to drive discovery and innovation through challenge-based education.

We've had a good start but still a long ways from where we'd like to go. We need you to help take us to the next level.

Join us on this journey, we promise it will change lives.

All the best,

AJ Thomas,

Founder & Executive Director of Infuse Program Foundation