09:22 AM

MSF Student Involves UST Bilingual Volunteers in Bold Entrepreneurial Program for Young Newcomers

This story is about a passion-driven program that aims to equip underserved Hispanic high school students with an entrepreneurial mindset for their future success. The Good Neighbor virtual program relies on bilingual volunteer students from University of St. Thomas to mentor the younger newcomers to America.

Program founder & CEO Carlos Bertrand, a professional engineer and MBA who is on track to complete his Master of Science in Finance with honors in spring 2021, said, “Good Neighbor instructs the UST volunteers on how to teach entrepreneurship. What’s crucial is that our volunteers be bilingual in Spanish, because studies confirm the language element is so critical to academic success.”

Bertrand, who grew up in Honduras, is testing Good Neighbor at The Awty International School in Houston.

“Awty presented a good opportunity for our pilot,” Bertrand said. “Every summer, for the last eight years, a group of 15 or so Awty students go to an impoverished rural area in Honduras where they build and dedicate a school as their IB Service Project. The students have to raise the money to make their project happen, and we help them to organize their ideas, identify opportunity, visualize it, explain it, promote it and launch it. We also show them how to crowdfund using social media.”

Bertrand is laying the groundwork to put Good Neighbor to work in fall 2021 at HISD’s Las Americas Newcomer School, which is entirely populated by newly arrived immigrant and refugee students. According to the website, more than 80% of the students at Las Americas are Hispanic.

“When I saw the children getting off the yellow school bus there, I wept because they are so young and fragile, and their problems are real ones, like ‘my mom doesn’t have shoes,’” Bertrand said.

Las Americas Principal Marie Moreno called the opportunity amazing. “Providing an enrichment class for our students will strengthen their social skills, build positive relationships and connect them to mentors to help guide them as they navigate being in a ‘foreign’ country,” she said. “Good Neighbor can show students how to springboard into the many opportunities they will have as they make America their new home. It’s so important to show our students that dreams can come true. Working hard, finishing their education and building on relationships are just a few ingredients for dreams coming true in this land of opportunity.” 

The Las Americas students won’t likely build a school. Instead, Good Neighbor intends to build up the students, teach them how ideas are organized, perhaps put them into groups and help them to find a social cause they care about.

“Maybe they will lead a sustainable neighborhood cleanup or recycling or open a taco place or a bakery—who knows? We want to teach them how to take their dreams forward.”

Bertrand’s program was a finalist in UST’s recent Bold IDEAS Pitch Competition.

Director of the UST McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise, Dr. Patrick Woock, said, “It’s one of the most amazing and thoughtful ventures I’ve seen!”