SAN LEANDRO -- Osayande Aihie is a well-spoken, confident young man who acquired numerous awards and honors during his time at San Leandro High.
Yet when he started high school, the biggest obstacle he faced was fear, he said.
"Coming into high school, there are so many things you need to deal with, so many avenues you can take. I saw so many of my friends doing the wrong thing and going down the wrong path," Aihie said.
He credits the school's business academy and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, program with helping him deal with his confusion. NFTE is a yearlong program in which every student writes and presents a business plan to community business people.
"They really helped me find myself and steered me toward a better life. They showed me I could make something out of myself," Aihie said.
Aihie and fellow San Leandro High graduate Milan Nguyen were among 17 students nationwide who were awarded scholarships after going through the entrepreneurship program. They each received $7,500 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Alumni Fund scholarships.
Nguyen credits the entrepreneurship program with helping her learn how to present herself in a professional manner.
"It really helped me open up. I originally was shy and wasn't good at presentations," she said.
Nguyen took a business class that Deborah Reinerio teaches using NFTE's curriculum. Reinerio agreed that Nguyen was shy at the
"I've seen that happen to other students. They start out meek and don't want to get in front of the classroom. By the following year, they've achieved a lot; they've mastered their skill of public speaking," she said.
Reinerio said her one-year class focuses on entrepreneurship and how to start and run a business. "NFTE is phenomenal for that kind of program. It's a very engaging curriculum. You actually do something," she said. The program, geared toward low-income students, is designed to teach young people skills to build their financial stability, she said.
Aihie was in the business academy's three-year program. The academy includes an entrepreneurship class using the NFTE curriculum.
In addition to San Leandro High, other area schools using the NFTE program include Hayward High; Lighthouse Community Charter School, McClymonds High and College and Career Readiness Office, all in Oakland; and Emery High in Emeryville.
Business academy program coordinator Mary Styner said the academy is a school within a school. The smaller school size allows students to develop relationships with their teachers and classmates.
"The students have the opportunity to feel safe in the classroom," she said.
"They can take those risks to learn how to do public speaking. Over the course of the three-year program, they go from no public speaking skills to learning how to market themselves, which is so important," Styner said.
Styner called Aihie, who was active in a multitude of extracurricular activities at San Leandro High, "an exceptional young man; I've rarely taught a student of his caliber."
Aihie, who will be attending the University of Denver this fall, has used his entrepreneur knowledge to start two businesses with one of his brothers. They have a clothing line, Tiversity, which he describes as urban, global streetwear with awareness. The brothers have a marketing plan and are sponsoring a tour of hip-hop artists Lil Debbie and Riff Raff this fall.
In addition, they have developed an app, Greek Pull, which is a social networking system.
Aihie said that before he took part in the program, he didn't even really know what an entrepreneur was.
Aihie and Nguyen both graduated in the top 10 percent of their class. Nguyen is majoring in biochemistry at San Jose State. Aihie has a double major in pre-law and business. He said he would like to become a corporate attorney, and be an entrepreneur on the side.
"Winning the scholarship not only made me really proud, but it also was a testament of how far I've come through NFTE. It was an amazing deal," Aihie said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr.1