Early in my college counseling career, I lived in multiple databases, dazed by columns and rows, trying to figure out how to stitch together data, student information, tracking transcript follow up, and checking off completed items…all in the name of completing college applications. I grew frustrated and fatigued as I witnessed my students falling through the cracks after all the incredible hard work my team invested in each student and family. I knew that a better system would be required if our students were going to complete their degrees.
The team that I had assembled worked extremely hard; however, the pace to keep up with all our students, especially their set of unique needs, really forced us to innovate our data ecosystem, out of both necessity and opportunity. We needed to accelerate our efforts through technology if we were to hit our ambitious goal of closing the achievement gap. So, we embarked on a mission to find existing data tools, secure data partnerships, and building new tools. At the end of the process, we had designed a data-driven approach to college and career counseling by using seven different databases sprinkling in some sharable platforms. We were ecstatic.
Our belief was that students, families, mentors, and counselors needed to be empowered with the same data and information traditionally found in the teacher’s gradebook or counselor’s files for success to be achieved in the college planning process. In a recent article published in The 74, Jon Deane (CEO, GreatSchools) writes about parent’s needs for greater transparency and a holistic view of their child’s growth. This is the same concept that validated our strategy for the first-generation college students we served. We committed to data transparency and sharing it in real time with families. We knew it would be lots of hard work and require an investment in team time, but in the end, this would keep the families informed and make our work easier and more efficient. We took the leap and dove into the work.
We learned a lot, like the fact that working in seven different “systems” while trying to maintain meaningful connections with students, parents, and college counselors soon became another exhausting experience. And, it was there, at the crossroads of necessity and opportunity, where grit, determination, and technology intersect. I was determined to help design technology tools to meet student, parent, and mentor’s needs in the college planning process. The technology would need to evolve once again.
I am honored to be part of the myOptions team that brings together all these learnings and data-driven practices. Our mission to ensure that all students have equal access to the core resources to plan for college and career, and that their educators and mentors do as well, is brought to life in myOptions and myOptions Encourage.
Our brand-new educator platform, myOptions Encourage, launched a few short weeks ago. With this free educator platform, schools do not have to worry about finding budget dollars to add a “best in class” college and career planning tool to their suite of resources.
So, what did we build? Here is what we wanted to solve for:
- Make it accessible and easy for students to join, and keep it free.
- Provide great tools, checklists, and links to scholarship opportunities.
- Connect students to colleges and universities.
- Allow students to invite parents, mentors, and counselors to connect with them.
- Request critical documents like transcripts and recommendation letters.
Through this new technology platform, we give all mentors the ability to connect with students, collaborate with them in the college planning process, collaborate and monitor their progress, and gather critical reports to help prioritize your students and their needs. At Encourages’ core we have also included college application management tools, like the ability to send documents electronically to colleges and universities on behalf of students. We believe this will offset the issue of students not completing their applications or falling off of their mentors’ radar. It will also help families become active in their child’s college planning process.
Finally, our alliance and partnership with the American College Application Campaign, creates a unified front to offset some of the key challenges we encounter as mentors and leaders of college planning programs. With the kickoff of the 2020 ACAC events this fall, we see a huge opportunity for counselors, mentors, program leaders, and managers to accelerate their work through the unification of ACAC resources and myOptions Encourage. It will especially help in the areas of tracking, reporting, staying connected, and evaluation, as well as making sure students are educated decision makers. Ultimately, our final exam as educators is the percent of our former students that complete a college degree.
myOptions Encourage can help! Create your educator profile today and get started.
Students can register at https://students.myoptions.org/e-registration/acac
On Tuesday, September 22, Bryan Contreras led the webinar “Utilizing myOptions Encourage to Support ACAC Implementation” hosted by ACAC, myOptions and the National College Attainment Network. Watch the recording here.
Listen in on Bryan’s podcast on EduTalk Radio here.