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Vietnamese American teacher wins US prize for teen-centered job app

Vietnamese American teacher wins US prize for teen-centered job app

Saturday, January 14, 2023, 10:43 GMT+7
Vietnamese American teacher wins US prize for teen-centered job app
Ben Nguyen, left, with Kris Engelstad of the Engelstad Foundation, Julie Pippenger of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and the other winners of the competition, Eleanor Cormier, and Stacy Sims. Photo courtesy of The Big Idea Challenge

Ben Hoang Nguyen, a Vietnamese American from Las Vegas, Nevada, the U.S. created an online platform that helps connect students with employers in their local communities.

Nguyen, a teacher at Sunrise Mountain High School in Las Vegas, Nevada brought home a grand prize of US$200,000 from The Big Idea Challenge: A Competition for Educational Innovation hosted by Nevada-based nonprofits The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and The Engelstad Foundation.

"This was an incredible experiment that gave everyone the opportunity to come forward to make things better," Kris Engelstad, a trustee of the Engelstad Foundation, wrote on The Big Idea Challenge website.

"And indeed, so many Nevadans did just that. Our winners have embarked on a long journey to win and receive funding. We cannot wait to see all they do to take their ideas - and education in our state - to new heights."

Julie Pippenger, chief operating officer of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, also lauded the competition and its contestants on the website, nothing that “This is just the beginning of a promising path for our winners. We will certainly cheer them on and be there for them. But in the meantime, it's been wonderful to see their ideas develop and strengthen through this competition."

Inspiring future careers

The Big Idea Challenge asked participants one simple question: "Who out there has an idea that can help take Nevada's education landscape to the next level?"

Between January and March 2022, over 200 applicants submitted their answers to the question, but Nguyen’s idea to create a student-centered employment platform stood out to the judges.

According to Nguyen, his idea was a product of years spent working with high school students and recent high school graduates as they transitioned to higher education or long term careers. 

Through this work, Nguyen realized just how difficult it was for the young people he worked with, regardless of their graduation status, to find suitable jobs.

Putting his skills as an automation technology teacher and lead robotics coach at the high school to work, he began developing the idea for an online platform that could help these young people connect with employers in the local community.

What sets Nguyen’s platform apart from other job-hunting applications is its focus on training and career-advancement opportunities.

"I think one of the main differences that won over the judges of the competition was the emphasis on the education aspects and information delivery of the app.

"There are many different platforms around the world, and the difference of mine is [sic] the type of information displayed and shared with users, and the ability to visualize opportunities in their immediate area, including city, state, and one day national [sic]," Ben Nguyen told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

To better engage the young, people the application seeks to help, Nguyen has allowed employers to present job opportunities, especially entry-level positions, using videos, pictures, and other forms of media that are more attractive to young people. 

The platform also serves as a gateway for students who are unsure of how to begin certain careers.

For example, a student who wants to become an auto mechanic might be presented with featured companies in their search area and locations where they can receive training or take licensing exams.

This focus on engaging younger audiences and educating students on how to enter certain career tracks is the key difference that sets Nguyen’s platform apart from its competitors.

Ben Nguyen, a teacher at Sunrise Mountain High School, one of three winners of The big idea challenge: An education innovation competition in a provided photo.
Ben Nguyen, a teacher at Sunrise Mountain High School, one of three winners of The Big Idea Challenge: An education innovation competition in a provided photo.

Plans for the future

To use Nguyen’s platform, job hunters can create free accounts and use certain features, such as the map function, to identify opportunities in their desired industries and locations. Employers can also choose between free and subscription options.

Nguyen had already built the platform before winning his $200,000 grand prize, but will put the money towards hiring a team that can help him grow the platform and perfect its features ahead of its launch later this month. He also has plans to build a mobile version.

"I have a lot of big plans for the platform as it grows. I think ultimately, I want it to grow and adapt to the needs of the people who will be using it, namely high school students, college students and graduates, and people looking for new careers and opportunities.

"If I can execute the plan well in the state of Nevada, there are opportunities to go even further by adding more states and, one day, global partners," Nguyen said.

Aspiring to be better

In 2019, his 6th year of teaching, Nguyen was awarded a Milken Educator Award - a prize awarded in recognition of teachers in the United States for their achievements.

Specifically, Nguyen was recognized for creating a creative classroom space at Sunrise Mountain High School which got students excited about learning STEM.

"I think, like a lot of people entering the teaching profession, there is a desire to do the best we can with what we have and with the students we get. My curiosity, combined with a drive for constant improvement, has helped me think and work extremely hard about both the big things and the small things, concerning many different issues in my life [sic].

"Through this approach, I have always allowed myself the freedom and creativity to pursue things I believe in, and I live my life in a way that is inspiring to my students, their families, the community, and beyond. Put simply - aspiring to be better," said Nguyen.

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Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News


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