When Noor Siddiqui learned about a fellowship that would give her $100,000 to pursue her dream to create an alternative educational system for the world’s poor, she saw her future.
“I had this moment—‘This is the perfect thing for me,’” remembers Siddiqui, who at the time was attending high school in Fairfax County, Va., where she had already helped create a not-for-profit organization.
She didn’t blink at the terms, though she knew her parents would — the Thiel Foundationfellowships open to applicants under 20 years old require postponing college or interrupting it during the two years they work on their project. They must also move to the San Francisco area.
Siddiqui applied, but didn’t tell her Pakistani-immigrant parents. Once accepted, of course, she confronted the inevitable. “My parents thought it was a horrible idea,” she remembers.
Their opposition was one-part immigrant aspiration, one-part conventional wisdom.
Noor, however, prevailed and passed on attending her choices of Brown University or the University of Chicago. She is now looking for companies to support her venture while working the foundation’s mentor network to further develop her idea — community centers in developed countries that provide vocational training.
“I know education is really important to them, but they don’t think the two years are going to be a free ride,” says Siddiqui, now 18, summarizing the issues of her parent’s conversion. “It will probably be one of the most important learning experiences of my life.”