Innovation Schools and Youth

BEAM program grows beyond Gunn to take on the world

BEAM founder and Gunn HS Cristina Florea in the Netherlands this summer

From its humble beginning as an afterschool club at Gunn High School, a unique math and business offering called BEAM has grown into not only an accredited course, but also a global program that is now running in the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, and Mexico. BEAM, which stands for Business Entrepreneurship and Math, was the brainchild of Gunn teacher Cristina Floreawho wanted her students to learn math and business concepts through real world professional experience in entrepreneurship, finance, and quantitative marketing.

Cristina Florea with some of her BEAM students

Palo Alto nonprofit helps BEAM expand to new countries

BEAM’s expansion has been fueled by its connection to a local organization called Neighbors Abroad, a Palo Alto nonprofit that facilitates international friendship through travel and exchange programs. Through Neighbors Abroad, a team of educators from the Netherlands came to Palo Alto and visited the BEAM classroom at Gunn. They were so impressed by Cristina and the program that they started their own BEAM effort for Dutch students. This past summer, Cristina traveled to the Netherlands to see the BEAM program in action.

“The Netherlands has a very progressive education system and they jumped at the idea of starting my BEAM program immediately,” she said. “They came to Gunn three times during the past school year and took the successful US model back to the Netherlands. It was very surreal to see my education program and ideas in play in a completely different country! Cities in Sweden and Japan are next on the list to start BEAM. I think this is world-wide learning at its best, since the students collaborate on their projects from around the world.”

The vision: connect students on global projects

Neighbors Abroad is also developing an exchange program that will connect global BEAM students around the world. The goal is that students from different nations will be able to collaborate with one another, sharing, discussing, analyzing and providing recommendation for each other’s projects.

BEAM treats students as responsible employees

BEAM’s classroom environment is anything but traditional. As Cristina describes, “The BEAM classroom is an entrepreneurial, innovative, creative and safe place for any student to be open and to share their ideas, in their own style.” What stands out in the BEAM classroom is how motivated the students are due to the relevance of the material, and how they hold each other accountable for getting their work done.

BEAM students at work on a consulting project

That’s because the BEAM structure more closely models that of a corporation, and Cristina sets up a culture where students are treated as responsible employees. During the first semester, representatives from Ernst & Young (EY) and PriceWaterHouse Coopers (PwC), as well as other companies such as SAP and LinkedIn teach business skills and engage with students as they move further along their projects. Instead of quizzes, tests and unnecessary stress, the students create goals, reflect on growth opportunities, and go through quarterly reviews and evaluations. And just like in an employee review, students also get the chance to assess their performance and make an argument about what grade they should receive.

Students as consultants, interns and entrepreneurs

Armed with their new skills in how to “think” like a business, BEAM students step out into the community during second semester and apply their knowledge and training through a paid internship at a local company, work on a volunteer project for a local non-profit or small business or developing their start-up ideas. Local business and nonprofit partners for BEAM include TIBCO Inc., Neighbors Abroad, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, BrainVyne, YMCA, Deborah’s Palm, DFarm, and Stanford Women in Business.

Local companies benefit from BEAM students’ efforts

The paid internship option evolved from BEAM’s relationships with local businesses, who see the value in the work that BEAM students can contribute. As George Chiao, TIBCO Director of Treasury Operations and Financial Reporting, told Cristina, “Our executive team and hiring managers have been extremely impressed with your students’ ability, energy, work ethic and understanding of business and finance in a short few weeks of interactions with them. The Gunn BEAM program is not only well received here by hiring managers, but also became the talk of town at TIBCO Finance. I already have inquiries from other managers regarding Gunn BEAM students for their projects.”

BEAM students at TIBCO

For the students who choose to work on a consulting project with a local nonprofit or small business, the projects depend on what each organization needs. BEAM students meet with their partner company, gather information and complete projects that are ‘real world’ applications of quantitative marketing, finance, and business strategy.  After collecting and analyzing data, the students present their findings to help boost their partner organization’s productivity. 

Mentoring and networking beyond high school

Through these projects, BEAM students build relationships with adults from local businesses, nonprofits and government that become mentors for their work and development. These mentors, such as Oscar Garcia, the former CEO and President of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, allow BEAM students to start their professional networks and to join an alumni association of BEAM graduates when they complete the course.

BEAM is headed to new schools…and countries

“BEAM has organically grown into an international education program with little to no advertising on my part,” Cristina said. “Other schools are adopting BEAM and creating their own business courses for students.”  The first school to have incorporated Gunn BEAM’s program is Mountain View High School, and many others–locally and internationally–are following its lead.

Learn more about BEAM

To learn more about BEAM, visit the BEAM website Gunn BEAM Facebook page, Linkedin page, or email Cristina Florea at: Additionally, the public is welcome to attend the annual BEAM celebratory event (usually in May), where students showcase the work they have done throughout the year.  

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All photos courtesy of Cristina Florea


About the author

Sakshi Satpathy

Sakshi Satpathy

Sakshi Satpathy is a student of Henry M. Gunn High School and a Girl Scout in Palo Alto. She is very active in both her school and local community; at Gunn, she is a MUN club officer, president of Gunn Amnesty International club and GLI (Girls Learn International) club, and member of the French Honor Society. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, spontaneous road trips, reading voraciously and writing. Sakshi looks forward to giving Palo Alto residents a keen insight on local news worthy events and individuals.