For Andrew Van Fossen, ’06, an education grounded in quantitative skills helped him reach new heights. Now, he’s paying it forward, hoping to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.
- May 01, 2018
“We have challenges in society, and here was this opportunity at this school, where we could get the kids excited about math.”
The three students in the running for first place by the middle of the year were girls, and one of those girls was from a racially and economically diverse school that didn’t tend to be recognized for its academics. When Van Fossen originally asked the gifted-math teacher at that school to send over some students, she was hesitant, concerned that the material might be too advanced for them.
But Van Fossen told her to send them anyway. “It kind of broke my heart—I believe we have challenges in society, and here was this opportunity at this school, where we could get the kids excited about math, and if it lit a spark, they could get a job making them $150,000. I was praying, ‘Please let the kids do well, and let this group do well.’”
To do well, the kids not only have to be good at math; they also have to be able to translate their skills into finance or into practical knowledge, because Van Fossen is “horrified by the lack of financial knowledge in our country.” So for example, an easier question on the test could be: If you want to buy an $80 calculator, and you have $20 saved, and you make $4 per week, how long will it take for you to earn enough to buy the calculator?
Van Fossen credits the math and analytics he learned while a student at Chicago Booth with enabling him to retire from his career at the age most others are still climbing the corporate ladder.
“I had a class that was all hard-core math, using statistics to figure out what was going on with the stock market,” he says. “Knowing that, and being able to use that with the other elements of my education, I was able to retire as a multimillionaire in my mid-30s, and I was able to take on other projects.”
Retiring so early as director of sales operations at Minneapolis-based Medtronic allowed Van Fossen to start this program. He hopes the competition will continue a cycle of kids getting better at math and using their success to make a change, much as Van Fossen was able to do. “These kids are going to save the world; they’re going to cure cancer, and if they cure cancer, we’re going to benefit from that,” says Van Fossen. “If you look at the University of Chicago, it’s going to be the place where a few of the kids go, and it’s where a tremendous amount of cancer research is done. [The University of Chicago] is really the central hub of a cycle of ‘Let’s get people really smart to make life better,’ which allows us to make kids smarter, which allows us to get them into the University of Chicago to make the next best thing.”
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