Despite top-tiers schools such as Rice, Houston didn't score well in the list. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston is a well-known opportunity city, with pillar industries such as energy, medicine, space, and tech — all requiring high levels of education. So just how educated is the Bayou City?

Not stellar, says personal finance website WalletHub in its new list of the most and least educated cities in the United States.

WalletHub started with the country’s 150 most populated metropolitan areas, and compared them over 11 metrics addressing population shares by highest level of education (the great majority of the weight of the study), quality of schools, summer learning opportunities, and education equality to create a scoring and ranking system.

Houston scored roughly a C-minus, coming in at No. 88 overall. It ranked 94th in the educational attainment category, and 33rd on the quality of education vs. education gap category. Notably, Houston ranks just above Los Angeles in the list.

The top 10 most educated U.S. cities, according to WalletHub, are:

1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
2. San Jose, California
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. San Francisco, California
6. Boston, Massachusetts
7. Durham, North Carolina
8. Raleigh, North Carolina
9. Seattle, Washington
10. Austin, Texas

(CultureMap has simplified these cities from metropolitan areas for readability.

Of these 10 cities, half are capitals, including the nation’s capital at No. 4. This could be as much a fact of population-based methodology as an indication that capitals tend to be very well educated (i.e. states like Maine are represented only once, by its capital city, which happened to do quite well at No. 16). However, the least educated capital was Salem, Oregon (No. 116), demonstrating a much lower prevalence in the lower rankings.

Outside of Austin nailing a top-10 spot, the rest of Texas lags significantly behind in the WalletHub rankings, with Dallas cracking the top half at No. 73 and San Antonio (No. 105) around the middle, with other Texas spots (Killeen, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Beaumont) falling even lower. McAllen and Brownsville came third and second to last overall.

One limiting factor in this survey of education is its focus on formal, in-school education. Although most of Texas could stand to improve its numbers in these realms, Austinites are afforded one more luxury as Texans: an opportunity to look deeper at the community values around them that elude or resist standardization. Maybe wait until school’s out, though.

This ranking comes as Houston’s halls of higher learning are making major moves. Rice University was just named best return on investment in Texas, while the University of Houston’s medical school has just received a $50 million injection from billionaire benefactor Tilman Fertitta.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

As we overcome the COVID crisis, and look to rebuild our economy and overcome future challenges, we need to learn from this experience and refuse to go back to the bad old days of red tape and stale technology. Photo via Getty Images

How the pandemic advanced tech in government and education, according to this Houston expert

Guest column

If you've logged onto a government website recently, you know that dealing with creaking, outdated government technology is about as much fun as a trip to the DMV. Held back by byzantine procurement rules, management-by-committee, and an aggressive commitment to decades-old UX principles, government websites and other tech tools are routinely confusing, horrible to use, and deeply inefficient.

Now, though, that could finally be changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to rethink our relationships with the technologies we use, from Zoom calls to e-commerce services. Increasingly, government bodies are finding themselves forced to move faster, adopt more up-to-date technologies, and work with private-sector partners to meet new challenges and quickly bring their services into the 21st century.

Getting an education

One of the most dramatic examples comes in the realm of education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 93 percent of school-age children have engaged in distance learning since the pandemic began, and four fifths of them relied on digital tech to take the place of classroom resources. But with access to digital tech at home strongly correlated to household income, governments and education departments have had to move quickly to ensure every child has access to laptops and web connections.

Not everyone is a fan of remote learning, and as a parent myself, I know how hard it can be to have kids at home. But one thing we should all be able to agree on is that if we're going to rely on digital learning, then we need to make sure it's available to everyone, including those families that don't have access to reliable computers and WiFi connections at home.

Achieving that rapidly and at scale has required remarkable flexibility and creativity from policymakers at all levels. Those that have succeeded have done so by brushing aside the red tape that has ensnared previous government tech initiatives, and instead working with private-sector partners to rapidly implement the solutions that are needed.

Lessons from Texas

Here in Texas, for instance, one in six public school students lacked access to high-speed internet connections at the start of the pandemic, and 30% lacked access to laptops or other learning devices. To speed the transition to remote learning, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched Operation Connectivity — a $400 million campaign to connect 5.5 million Texas public school students with a computer device and reliable internet connection. To date 4 million devices have been purchased and are being distributed to kids, opening doors to greater educational and economic opportunities. Further work is in progress to remove other connectivity barriers like slow connection speeds in rural areas to help students and all Texans.

Rolling out such an ambitious project to our state's 1,200 or so school districts could have been a disaster. After all, many government IT projects grind along for months or years without delivering the desired results — often at huge cost to taxpayers. But Operation Connectivity has been different because it's grounded in a true partnership between the government and private-sector players.

Facing urgent deadlines, government leaders turned to Gaby Rowe, former CEO of the Ion tech hub, to spearhead the project. As a tech innovator, Rowe brought entrepreneurial energy and a real understanding of the power of public-private partnerships, and drove Operation Connectivity from the blueprint to execution in a matter of weeks. Tech giants including Microsoft, SAP, and Hubspot also quickly joined the effort, helping to deliver cost-effective connectivity and hardware solutions to ensure that every kid in our state could get the education they deserve. Since then, Operation Connectivity has distributed over a million devices, including laptops and wireless hotspots, to families in need, with costs split between the state and individual districts.

Private sector edge

To get a sense of how private-sector knowhow can spur government tech transformation, consider my own company, Digital Glyde. As part of the Operation Connectivity effort, we were asked to help design and build the back-end software and planning infrastructure needed to coordinate effectively with hundreds of school district officials scattered all across our state.

Ordinarily, that kind of effort would require a drawn-out process of consultation, committee-work, and red tape. But facing an urgent need to help our state's children, we were given the freedom to move quickly, and were able to implement a viable system within just a few days.

By leveraging cutting-edge data-extraction and image-processing tools, we helped Operation Connectivity to automatically process invoices and match tech costs to available COVID relief funding in record time. We achieved 95% accuracy within three weeks of deployment to ensure school districts quickly received reimbursements for the hardware they were purchasing on behalf of their schoolchildren.

Building on success

Operation Connectivity is just one example of the ways in which government actors have embraced tech and leveraged private-sector assistance to chart their way through the COVID crisis. From contact-tracing programs to vaccine distribution programs, we're seeing governments taking a far more pragmatic and partnership-driven approach to technology.

Of course, not every experiment goes to plan. In Florida, government agencies decided to use web tools to manage vaccination appointments — but implemented that idea using a commercial website built to handle birthday party e-vites. Unsurprisingly, the results were chaotic, with users having to scramble to grab appointments as they were posted to the site, and seniors struggling to wrap their head around a website designed for young parents.

Such stories are a reminder that governments can't solve big problems simply by grabbing at whatever tech tools are nearest to hand. It's vital to find the right solutions, and to work with partners who understand the complexity and constraints that come with delivering public-sector services at scale.

As we overcome the COVID crisis, and look to rebuild our economy and overcome future challenges, we need to learn from this experience and refuse to go back to the bad old days of red tape and stale technology. In recent months, we've shown what can be done when we pull together, and combine real governmental leadership with private-sector innovation and efficiency. We'll need much more of this kind of teamwork and tech-enabled creativity in the months and years to come.

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Varun Garg is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Digital Glyde

With a new year around the corner, students and parents will soon see school rankings released. But there's so much more to consider than what this data shows. Houston education expert shares his own innovative method. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Rethinking priorities at educational institutions

guest column

As a new year approaches, it is common to see various school rankings begin to appear in different studies and within various media outlets. Whether they're ranking colleges, high schools or even pre-k schools, these lists have long impacted the decisions families and students make.

That said, most school rankings are one-dimensional, therefore making them unreliable. The most common factor these classifications take into consideration is the rigor of academics and how they correlate to test scores and admissions. However, students are more than solely an academic statistic – they are artists, athletes and creative thinkers.

It is important, at any level, when considering a school to take into account nine key factors, not just one.

Navigating the selection process

There is a systemic issue with associating the quality of an educational experience to a school's name. Many rankings fuel this fire. Parents are often influenced to make decisions off of frivolous premises that deceive them into thinking one school is of better caliber than another. However, in reality, they are doing their child a disservice by not taking into consideration the many other factors that play into school selection.

Location

Distance to home or workplace is still a top factor in deciding which school to target. Although important to consider, many families tend to focus more on other factors aside from convenience alone.

Cost

The average private high school tuition in the Greater Houston area is $25,083 with annual increases on average of 4-6%. Tuition and financial aid play key factors when making the final decision and choosing which schools to add to a list. Final consideration for this is the cost vs benefit analysis.

Legacy

Studies suggest a "legacy" — you, a spouse or older child who previously attending a potential school — is one of the most popular reasons why schools get added to a target list. Although this is a legitimate approach, it is important to be cautious of not imposing a "legacy" onto a student.

Academics

The quality of education can be measured in rigor of classes, expertise of teachers, use of technology and class size. It is important to take into consideration if Honors, AP, and Dual Credit are offered, the percentage of teachers who have advanced degrees, the accessibility to laptops and smart learning devices, and smaller teacher to student ratios.

Athletics

If a student has an affinity for a sport and is genuinely considering playing the sport at a higher level, then it is important to find a balance between a school that has a strong program for that sport and the other factors on the list.

Social

There are three main social components at play in school choice: if students' friends are considering a school, or parents' own social circles influencing the decision, and the non-academic activities offered at a school. It is important to consider the clubs, organizations, leadership and volunteer opportunities offered as these help contribute to college applications down the road.

K-12 school v. 9-12 school

Some students must consider the adaptation curve for starting a high school in which other students had been attending since kindergarten. Due to this, families may consider 9-12 schools as the better option for their students since everyone starts from scratch.

Single-Gender v. Co-Educational

Deciding on the gender composition of a high school depends on a student's personality, confidence, personal preferences, and family values. Students can find success in both types of offerings, but girls especially may thrive in a single gender environment due to the empowering and confidence building structure of most all-girls schools.

College Preparedness

This should be the ultimate reason to go through a well-informed process for school selection. A school should prepare a student for standardized tests, college applications, and scholarship opportunities, and is the clearest cost to benefit factor to consider.

A new way to determine a student's path

In order to decide the best fit for a student it is time to discontinue the age-old practice of selecting an education based on rankings and subjective labels. It is time to usher in a new innovative approach that takes a look at the personality, values, interests, skills, and goals of a student and the various elements that make them unique.

At Firat Education, we run qualitative and quantitative assessments on students which are scenario-based and are used to identify what drives them, what gets them to the next level, and what excites them. This information then allows us to use a weighted scoring system that, dependent on each student, helps quantify the factors that matter most such as college preparedness, academics, athletics, and social.

Additionally, we look at their changing habits whether it be consistency in their values, their interests, and academic strengths. From here, we put it all together to formulate personalized scores that help prioritize the best fit for that individual student.

Utilizing this developed and dynamic approach to choosing a school is the first step in revolutionizing the way we approach schooling and spearheading a new age of innovation in education.

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Ibrahim Firat, is the chief educational consultant and co-founder of Houston-based Firat Education.

A statewide initiative backed by Microsoft will bring new digital education to the University of Houston campus. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston joins Microsoft-backed initiative for digital tech workforce development

teamwork

The University of Houston College of Technology has been selected for a new initiative to bring digital and technical skills to students and the workforce.

Microsoft's Accelerate program is a part of the tech giant's Global Skills Initiative, a multimillion-dollar investment seeking to increase digital skills to equip 25 million people worldwide by the end of 2020, according to the website.

"The University of Houston is proud to be part of an effort to prepare strong professionals and leaders in Texas who think innovatively and are equipped with next-generation skills to be successful," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in a press release. "The College of Technology is well-positioned to strengthen this workforce pipeline and create a stronger Texas."

Along with Microsoft, UH is also working with the Texas Education Agency to develop courses that will teach a variety of tech skills, including STEM engagement for students in K-12, professional development, workforce development for high school and college students, and even parents and professionals seeking opportunities to enhance business and technical skills, according to the release.

"The College of Technology is working with Microsoft to provide Texas communities with resources to create meaningfully unique opportunities," says Dean Anthony Ambler in the release. "From high schools to professionals across the state, our programs transcend the classroom to support workforce creation and upskilling. These activities champion Texas communities with a focus on digital equity among underserved areas that solve problems and improve lives."

The college joins other Texas partners, including STEMuli, The Ion, NASA, the Dallas Independent School District, Bell, Big Thought, Stedman Graham and Associates, Tribute to Valor, National Math and Science Initiative, Dallas Regional Chamber, and the Irving Chamber of Commerce.

"Texans are some of the brightest, most productive people in the world. It is exciting to work to establish a statewide innovation ecosystem to support a sustainable culture of opportunity," says David Crawley, professor of practice with the College of Technology, in the release.

When it comes to education among its residents, the Houston area lands in the bottom half of America's smartest cities. Photo by Utamaru Kido/Getty Images

New ranking of America's smartest cities puts Houston near back of the class

by the books

Houston sits toward the back of the class when it comes to the smartest metro areas in the U.S., according to a new study.

In the study, published by personal finance website WalletHub, the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area ranks 90th among the most-educated metros. Houston trails Austin-Round Rock (No. 9) and Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 71) but outperforms San Antonio-New Braunfels (No. 106) on the 150-metro list. At the very bottom of the list are McAllen (No. 148) and Brownsville (No. 149).

Houston's ranking remains unchanged from WalletHub's 2018 study.

To determine where the most-educated Americans live, WalletHub compared the 150 largest metros across 11 metrics. That data includes the share of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree, the quality of public schools, and the gender gap in education.

Here's how Houston fared across some of the data categories (lower ranking is better):

  • No. 30 — Black-versus-white education gap
  • No. 36 — Quality of public schools
  • No. 59 — Share of adults with at least a bachelor's degree
  • No. 65 — Women-versus-men education gap
  • No. 72 — Share of adults with a graduate or professional degree
  • No. 74 — Average quality of universities
  • No. 90 — Share of adults with an associate's degree or college experience
  • No. 112 — Students enrolled in top 951 universities per capita
  • No. 135 — Share of residents with a high school diploma

The most educated metro in this year's ranking is Ann Arbor, Michigan. Visalia-Porterville, California, though, sits at the bottom of the list as the nation's least educated metro.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

DeBakey High School for Health Professions is at the top of the class. Photo by skynesher/Getty Images

Houston STEM high school declared top of the class by U.S. News & World Report

A-plus

Three Houston high schools deserve a tip of the cap (or mortarboard) after earning marks for excellence. On June 12, U.S. News & World Report released its annual Best U.S. High Schools by metro area, ranking the top public schools in each major city.

DeBakey High School for Health Professions is at the top of the class in the Bayou City. In addition to earning top marks for academics, the school is notably comprised of mostly minority students — 89 percent.

To determine the country's best schools, U.S. News ranked each school using six metrics, applying different weights to each category:

  • College readiness (30 percent)
  • Math and reading proficiency (20 percent)
  • Math and reading performance (20 percent)
  • Underserved service (10 percent)
  • College curriculum breadth (10 percent)
  • Graduation rate (10 percent)

Based on the above, the school has an overall score of 99.9 (or an A-plus in high school lingo), complete with 100 percent graduation and reading and mathematics proficiency rates. Also, 100 percent of students took and passed at least one AP exam.

Located on the prestigious Texas Medical Center Campus, DeBakey offers students unparalleled access to on-site research facilities, as well as future academic opportunities, U.S. News notes.

"Graduates are eligible for the Houston Premedical Academy, an undergraduate program at the University of Houston designed specifically for DeBakey High School students," the report says. "Those selected for the premedical academy receive provisional acceptance to the Baylor College of Medicine."

DeBakey ranks first in Houston and No. 17 nationally. The school is also rated No. 10 in the U.S. among magnet schools and No. 11 among STEM schools.

Carnegie Vanguard High School earned the No. 2 spot in Houston, 24th in the nation, followed by Eastwood Academy at No. 3 locally and 97th nationally.

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A version of this story, with information on Texas' other metros, originally was published on CultureMap.

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Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

so clutch

An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch

2 Houston suburbs roll onto top-15 spots on U-Haul’s list of growing cities

on the move

More movers hauled their belongings to Texas than any other state last year. And those headed to the Greater Houston area were mostly pointed toward Missouri City and Conroe, according to a new study.

In its recently released annual growth report, U-Haul ranks Missouri City and Conroe at No. 13 and No. 19, respectively among U.S. cities with the most inbound moves via U-Haul trucks in 2022. Richardson was the only other Texas cities to make the list coming in at No. 15.

Texas ranks No. 1 overall as the state with the most in-bound moves using U-Haul trucks. This is the second year in a row and the fifth year since 2016 that Texas has earned the distinction.

“The 2022 trends in migration followed very similar patterns to 2021 with Texas, Florida, the Carolinas and the Southwest continuing to see solid growth,” U-Haul international president John Taylor says in a news release. “We still have areas with strong demand for one-way rentals. While overall migration in 2021 was record-breaking, we continue to experience significant customer demand to move out of some geographic areas to destinations at the top of our growth list.”

U-Haul determines the top 25 cities by analyzing more than 2 million one-way U-Haul transactions over the calendar year. Then the company calculated the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks entering a specific area versus departing from that area. The top U-Haul growth states are determined the same way.

The studies note that U-Haul migration trends do not directly correlate to population or economic growth — but they are an “effective gauge” of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents.

Missouri City is known for its convenient location only minutes from downtown Houston. The city’s proximity to major freeways, rail lines, the Port of Houston, and Bush and Hobby Airports links its businesses with customers “around the nation and the world,” per its website.

The No. 19-ranked city of Conroe is “the perfect blend of starry nights and city lights,” according to the Visit Conroe website. Conroe offers plenty of outdoor activities, as it is bordered by Lake Conroe, Sam Houston National Forest and W. Goodrich Jones State Forest. But it also has a busy downtown area with breweries, theaters, shopping and live music.

To view U-Haul’s full growth cities report, click here.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: Space tourism is the future — do we have the workforce to run it?

guest column

Throughout history, humans have always been fascinated in exploring and traveling around the world, taking them to many exotic places far and away. On the same token, ever since the dimension of space travel has been inaugurated with multiple private companies launching rockets into space, it has become an agenda to make space travel public and accessible to all. We believe that space travel is the next frontier for tourism just like for our forefathers world travel to faraway places was the next frontier, for recreational and adventure purposes.

In a world racing on technology, we can picture flying cars, invisible doors, and international cuisine in space. With this rapid expansion of the land, the idea of space tourism has stirred the space industry to think about running businesses, start trade, and set up universalization beyond the ring of the earth. It is no longer science fiction but our immediate future. However, the true question remains. Who will be responsible for all of it? Are we training the right workforce that is needed to build and run all of this?

Space tourism is an exciting idea in theory, traveling to extra-terrestrial destinations, exploring new planets, all by being in an anti-gravitational environment. Through these diminishing borders and rapid advancements soon we'll be living the space life, all the virtual, metaverse gigs coming to reality. But before that let's explore space tourism and how the solar system will welcome humans.

What is Space tourism?

Ever since 1967, Apollo opened the getaway of space travel and the technological intervention spun to rise. Just like nomad tourism, space tourism is human space travel for commercializing interstellar for leisure or pleasurable adventures of the unknown. Space has different levels of horizons, according to research, orbital space has high speeds of 17,400 mph to allow the rocket to orbit around the Earth without falling onto the land. While lunar space tourism goes into subcortical flights and brings people back at a slower speed.

Studies have shown that in the upcoming years, commercial space exploration will hike up the economical database, by generating more than expected revenue. On these grounds, space tourism won't be limited to suborbital flights but rather take onto orbital flights, this revolutionary expenditure will change the future.

Everything aligns when the right team works together endlessly to reach the stars. The space exploration will only take place with enthusiastic and empowered individuals catering towards their roles.

Astronomers, space scientists, meteorologists, plasma physicists, aerospace engineers, avionics technicians, technical writers, space producers, and more will work in the field to make this space dream come true.

The attraction of Space exploration

Curiosity is the gateway to the seven wonders of the world. Humans are born with novelty-seeking, the drive to explore the unknown and push boundaries. This exploration has benefited society in a million ways, from making bulbs to jets.

The attraction towards exploring the space stems from the same desire for novelty seeking. We want to answer the most difficult questions about the universe, is there only darkness beyond that sky? Can we live on another planet if ours die? To address the challenges of space and the world, we have created new technologies, industries, and a union worldwide. This shows how vital space exploration is to humans. Many astronauts dwell on the idea of seeing the iconic thin blue outline of our planet, the quintessential experience makes the astronaut go back and back. However, are we entering this dimension with the right skills? Is our future workforce ready to take need the best

Who will lead the path?

The main question that still goes unanswered is who will run space tourism. When it comes to the future, there are infinite options. One decision and you will fly into an endless sky.

This expenditure has opened multiple career opportunities for the future workforce to take on for diversification and exploration of space. Currently, we cannot predict how people will find meaning and improve their lives through space tourism, but it will be a soul-awakening experience. According to experts, travelers would prefer a livelihood in space for which companies are working day and night to figure out accommodation and properties. The ideas include having space hotels, offices, research labs, and tents for operations.

Lastly, space tourism is just a start, we are moving into a dimensional field of physics and astronomy to create new opportunities and ground-breaking inventions to explore the untouchable. The new era of more refined and thoroughly accessed careers are on the rise, let's see how the world evolves in the next 10 years.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.