When Natasha Chan (née Sayani) thinks back on what she learned during her freshman year at UCI, she’s still excited. “You know Bloom’s taxonomy,” she says, referring to the classification system used to define different levels of cognition, “well, I think a lot of students get stuck on the bottom level, where they’re just repeating facts. At UCI, we got to the next levels. We really got to engage with the professors and question the material. They really encouraged us to write papers that were outside of the box.”
Natasha and Seaver Chan are the husband and wife team behind Vanguard College Prep in Lewisville, Texas where they help prepare students for entry into top-tier universities. They attribute much of where they are today to their UCI experience. First, it provided the basis for Vanguard’s pedagogy and their commitment to sharing knowledge. “What we learned at UCI was a huge influence on Vanguard’s curriculum,” Natasha says. “We wanted to teach students how to process and apply information and not just simply focus on test-taking ‘strategies’ like other test prep programs.”
Second, it’s where they met and fell in love. Natasha, whose family is from Pakistan, and Seaver, whose family is from China, were both international studies majors. “Seaver focused on the Middle East, while I focused on East Asia. So, we already had an interest in each other’s cultures prior to meeting,” Natasha says.
Vanguard College Prep started with a flyer. After graduating from UCI, Natasha moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to be close to family. Since her job search was going nowhere, she thought hard about what she really wanted to do with her life. She realized it was teaching.
Natasha posted a flyer advertising her tutoring services at her local Starbucks. “From day one, I knew I was going to do it right. I invest 110% in anything I do. If I was hired to tutor a student for one and half hours, I spent six to seven hours in the library prepping for it,” she says. “Educating others has always been a passion.”
Natasha’s clients multiplied and soon Seaver, who had followed Natasha to Texas, joined her tutoring business, despite having a full-time job in finance at the time. Almost immediately, the two saw an opportunity for growth and decided to expand their tutoring business into college prep.
College and beyond
The Chans have always seen Vanguard College Prep as more than a business. Their mission is not only to get their students into top-tier universities, but to see them thrive there and beyond. Whether it’s by stressing the importance of time management skills or by striving to see their students graduate debt free, the Chans are invested in their students’ well-being. “Hearing the news that student debt is at an all-time high is absolutely scary to me. Students can’t get a jump-start on life if they carry all this debt. Plus, we’ve invested in these kids for years, some since middle school. I see them as my babies. I don’t want to see them go out into the world with that debt on their shoulders.”
Even though Natasha and Seaver are busy with the daily operations of running Vanguard, they still find time to teach. “That way we stay in touch with our kids who keep Vanguard young and fun,” Natasha says. But the focus is not just on hard work and FAFSA forms. Natasha likes to remind her students of the light at the end of the tunnel. “A lot of our students are in their junior year of high school and they’re really starting to feel the burn. I like to remind them of all the positive times ahead and how much fun college is going to be. I try to get them excited about it.”
Vanguard covers the test prep and college counseling costs for three need-based students annually and intends to increase that number as their business grows. “We are incredibly grateful for all that we have been able to accomplish and especially for the love and respect we’ve been given in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Seaver and I know that this is all because of our UCI education and how it awoke in us the desire to share with others what we experienced ourselves at Irvine,” Natasha says.
“We want to help students kick start their lives, so they in turn can give back to the community,” Natasha says. Vanguard’s college counselor, Alina Sayani, who also happens to be Natasha’s sister, helps connect students with camps, internships, and scholarship opportunities. “I encouraged my sister to get her college counseling certification from UCI,” Natasha says, laughing at her own boosterism of all things UCI.
Part of the community
Since the Chans founded Vanguard College Prep in 2014, over 700 students have enrolled in their classes and services. All, according to Natasha, with little to no marketing. Vanguard currently employs twenty-two staff and instructors and continues to grow. When Vanguard recently expanded to a bigger facility, they were recognized by the city. A city councilman even came out to cut the ribbon at their opening ceremony. For the Chans, this was the highpoint of all those long hours spent in the library and at their desks. It solidified their place in the community.
“Whatever you do, make sure it’s geared to solving a problem, adding value to your community,” Natasha says. “Make sure you’re passionate about what you do and not just pursuing something because that’s what the market needs or because it’s lucrative. Only then will you have what it takes to follow through and deal with all bumps along the way.”
-Jill Kato, UCI