It was the late 1990s, and drug conflicts had brought insecurity and violence to Colombia. Looking to give their sons a better alternative, the Gallegos moved the family from their home in the dense capital city of Bogotá to rural Texas. They eventually settled in Stephenville, a conservative town of fewer than 20,000 people.
“It was very different. People wore cowboy hats and competed about the size of their pickup trucks,” says Ivan Gallego, SIGM ’17.
Although just 7 years old when he landed in Stephenville, Gallego knew even then that the course of his life would be altered dramatically.
“My parents moved in their 30s to a new country so my brother and I could have the opportunity for a better life,” Gallego says. “It opened our world up a lot.”
This window on how a change in circumstances can significantly improve one’s life has led Gallego to look for ways to open others’ worlds through education. Gallego, now 22, received a fellowship to attend Stanford’s Summer Institute for General Management in 2017. He joined the program to seek ideas about how he could fix a system in which disadvantaged youths are often unaware of the college experience and the opportunities that higher education provides.
“I think if you can find some innovative way to make profits while helping kids, it will have a really profound impact,’’ he says. “I came to SIGM to get different perspectives, different ideas on that.”
Back when he was a student at Rice University, Gallego was struck by the disparities in perceptions about educational opportunities among Houston’s high schoolers. While mentoring high school students, he noticed that some had begun preparing for college as early as middle school, while for others, college wasn’t an option they could fathom.
“I saw how people didn’t value education as much as they should, or just didn’t have access to it,” Gallego says. He teamed up with a group of friends to start a chapter of Project Rousseau, an organization that helps young people pursue higher education.
Now a graduate of the SIGM program, Gallego is heading to Chicago to work at Accenture, a global management consulting firm where he interned last year. The most useful tool he learned during the six-week course? Hard skills, such as cost management.
“I came to the program to get a good understanding of the business essentials I didn’t necessarily get in college,” he says. These skills, he adds, will help him apply a business mindset as he seeks to solve the issues of unequal access to education.
Gallego is continuing what has become a family tradition. His mother teaches Spanish at a high school in Stephenville, and his father does research for a state university there. And Gallego’s younger brother, a sophomore at Stanford, is also pursuing the education that their parents made possible for them years ago.
— Jenny Luna