Even as a child, San José State alumnus Muhammed Chaudhry took notice of the school he’d end up attending years later.

“We were on 5th Street, right up the road from the San José State campus,” remembers Chaudhry, who emigrated with his parents from Pakistan when he was eight years old. “The local school was full, so I had to take the public bus system to another area. I always saw the campus from a distance as a faraway place.”

Education was critical in Chaudhry’s family; his mother had earned a master's degree in Pakistan, an unusual accomplishment for a woman at the time. So he’d always known that he’d go to college; but the high school cross-country runner almost didn’t apply to San José State because the school no longer had a track-and-field program.

Ultimately, though, it was the quality of the business program that persuaded him to enroll.

The education he received, says Chaudhry, “transformed me into someone who really understands business.” He earned his business degree from San José State; today, Chaudhry’s mission is to ensure that others have the same opportunity that he did.

 

The Chance to Have an Impact

During a lull between jobs in 2001, Chaudhry came upon an irresistible opportunity: the chance to run a small educational fund, the Franklin-McKinley Education Foundation, in one of the hardest-hit school districts in San José.

The role attracted him because he’d always been involved in community work, having volunteered at a teen center throughout most of college.

“There is an incredible divide here [in Silicon Valley], where on one side you’ll find all the riches in the world, and on the other are kids coming to class hungry and schools that don’t even have the most basic amenities,” he says.

Chaudhry accepted the job, expecting it to be temporary. “I was only supposed to be there for six months,” he remembers. “But I quickly realized the opportunities to provide others with access and the transformational ability of an education. In those six months, I was hooked.”

It didn’t take long for Chaudhry and his small team to realize there were other school districts in Silicon Valley that desperately needed help, too.

Working with San José’s mayor at the time, Ron Gonzales, in 2006 they launched a citywide education foundation to help schools. And in February 2008, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), led by Chaudhry, was created to, he says, “be the only organization dedicated solely to improving K-12 public education across Silicon Valley’s school districts.”

Today, Chaudhry is the SVEF’s president and CEO. “Critical to our mission at SVEF is ensuring that every student in Silicon Valley—the second-largest school district in California—is prepared for college and the workforce,” explains Chaudhry.

He has remained with SVEF since its early days, when it was housed in a trailer behind a local middle school, and has grown the foundation into northern California’s leading education nonprofit.

 

San José State: ‘The Backbone of Silicon Valley’

Chaudhry’s alma mater is an essential partner in helping to achieve the Foundation’s mission. SVEF aims to feed more students to San José State through its Spartan East Side Promise, a program that ensures admission to local students who meet specific requirements.

“You look at the local high schools, and for many of these kids going away to college is not feasible. San José State is a great [local] option and we want to make sure they’re ready for it,” enthuses Chaudhry. “That’s what gets me up every morning.”

With a particular focus on STEM education, SVEF has initiatives like Elevate [Math], a summer program to prepare seventh- to 10th-graders for their next-level math courses. Likewise, SVEF works with the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute, whose aim is to foster more STEM students. There’s also a grant program for teachers.

In Silicon Valley—ground zero for innovation and technology—education is perhaps the one non-negotiable ticket to success.

“To talk about the impact of San José State, you need to think about what makes Silicon Valley what it is—[and that’s] access to talent,” Chaudhry explains. “Access to great institutions of higher learning is a key ingredient to the secret sauce of Silicon Valley. It’s impossible for Stanford to fill that need on its own, and in reality San José State is the true backbone.”

If SVEF can make a lasting impact through innovating the world of education and creating more college-ready students from Silicon Valley’s disadvantaged communities, Chaudhry will have achieved what he set out to do: “I can’t help but think that when these kids grow up and become successful, they’ll give back to the Valley in the critical ways that form a powerful sense of community and place."