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USC Senior Launches Competition Hub to Support High School and College Students

USC Senior Launches Competition Hub to Support High School and College Students

Brandon Tran wants to elevate access to scholarship, prizes, and recognition for students like him.

Brandon Tran, wearing a USC sweatshirt, smiling for the camera.

Brandon Tran hopes to elevate youth voices with his new company.

[Photo/Courtesy of Tran]

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There is no better way to start the new year than taking your bold new idea to the next level. For USC senior Brandon Tran that meant registering his newly launched organization ChallengeUS — as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The organization aims to elevate youth voices surrounding global problems, while elevating their profiles and access through scholarships, recognition, and awards.

A political science major, organizational leadership and management minor, and USC Marshall Brittingham Social Enterprise Undergraduate Social Impact Scholar, Tran spent the last three years honing his interests and clarifying his ambitions. At age two, Tran moved from Vietnam to the Bay Area, where he said he was “a disaster of a student.”

“One of my earliest memories was my parents taking me to get tested for learning disabilities because of how concerned they were about my struggles at school,” Tran added. “I didn’t have any; I was just having immense trouble assimilating and finding things I was interested in.”

Through sports, which gave him confidence and introduced him to like-minded peers, Tran learned about competitive drive and how to take pride in his work. While navigating high school, however, he wasn’t always sure of how to support his natural abilities and level up.

“My parents didn’t graduate high school, let alone college. So I had very little academic and professional guidance, because my family was also experiencing the educational and professional journey for the first time through me,” Tran said. “It wasn’t until college that I could reflect and realize how little I seized the opportunities available to me simply because of how limited and unaware my perspective was.”

The genesis of ChallengeUS, which Tran co-founded with USC alumnus Alvin Wong ’23, rests in large part in Tran’s desire to provide opportunity, scholarship, and community to students like him — capable yet untapped.

I want to eventually be able to give away tens of thousands to each winner, so that winning the scholarship isn’t just prestigious but meaningful in helping pay for an individual’s education.

— Brandon Tran ’24

The future nonprofit is currently seeking funds through grants and donations, and preparing to launch its spring and summer programming, which Tran says will focus on competitions and scholarships for high school and college-level students. Tran’s mission for the organization is to critically engage and elevate student voices on world issues, thereby effectively crowdsourcing fresh perspectives and ideas from the next generation of leaders.

Tran knows that the concept of student competitions is not necessarily unique, but he hopes that ChallengeUS will grow to be more multidimensional and multidisciplinary than current offerings.

“This spring, we’re only going to offer speech and essay competitions because they are the easiest to do simultaneously and the ones that my team and I have the most experience in,” Tran said. “But in the long-term I hope we can do pitch competitions, policy-thons, research competitions, case competitions, general scholarship competitions, and more.”

Tran’s foray into business wasn’t always a part of his vision for himself. It wasn’t until the second semester of his sophomore year at USC that Tran took his first Marshall class. He credits his emergent interest in business to his time working at the Institute for Youth in Policy, where he founded and led an in-house incubator. Combining his enthusiasm for organizational management and entrepreneurship with his passion for policy and impact, Tran sought to find projects that were meaningful to him and others in his community.

Upon discovering USC Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab and its Undergraduate Impact Scholars program, Tran was able to further his vision for himself and his goals through the nine-month cohort-based mentorship program. Specifically, he gained real-world advice and experience from two of this year’s BSEL Undergraduate Impact Fellows: Andrea White-Kjoss and Jen Chiou. White-Kjoss is Managing Director at the Long Beach Accelerator.

“She played a big role in making me even more comfortable with entrepreneurship and diving headfirst into it,” Tran said. “There was always a little bit of trepidation. A little bit of a feeling that I could stay in between the two spaces [business and political science], but what she does is squarely in the world of entrepreneurship.”

Their conversations not only helped shift Tran’s mindset, but they also helped him better understand social entrepreneurship. “You can be a for-profit business and still have a tremendous social impact,” he said.

Tran also benefited from meetings with BSEL Undergraduate Impact Scholars Fellow Jen Chiou. Founder of CodeSpeak Labs, Chiou was able to share her journey from management consulting into social entrepreneurship.

“Jen and I have very similar backgrounds,” Tran said. “She’s given me advice on starting ChallengeUS, but also strategies on how to grow and scale it — and grow myself as a serial entrepreneur.”

In terms of growth and scaling, Tran emphasizes that having a sustained and measurable impact will be key. Social impact measurement is a field that is still developing, particularly because indicators can often be qualitative or contextual. For Tran, the biggest key performance indicator (KPI) for ChallengeUS will be the amount of scholarship dollars ChallengeUS awards.

“I want to eventually be able to give away tens of thousands to each winner,” he said. “So that winning the scholarship isn’t just prestigious but meaningful in helping pay for an individual’s education.”