This AI chatbot named Oli is helping first-generation college students navigate the enrollment process
Courtesy of Capital One
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Marim Albajari was a high school senior living in New York City during the onset of the pandemic. Suddenly, the prospect of starting college directly after graduation no longer seemed like a sure thing.

Due to a lack of resources to help her navigate the college application process, she was almost a victim of the "summer melt"—a term used to describe students who cancel plans to attend college before classes begin.

The "melt" is a common problem disproportionately affecting students from low-income families—many high-school graduates who have been accepted to college and plan to enroll are quickly knocked off-course if they do not obtain sufficient financial aid, miss administrative deadlines, or most importantly, lack support from family and friends.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, as high school graduates who immediately went on to college in Fall 2020 declined by nearly 7% when compared to the previous year, for obvious reasons. Even without a pandemic, finding the right information about things like course load, financial aid, and housing can be time-consuming and overwhelming for students without a guide.

That's where Oli comes in.

A free AI chatbot service, nicknamed "Oli", is offered by The Common Application (Common App). In 2018, the Reach Higher Initiative merged with Common App and partnered with AdmitHub to develop the AI chatbot that would eventually become Oli. The group then joined forces with the College Advising Corps to offer counseling services to get more first-generation, low-income, and diverse students enrolled in college.

Now a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Albajari can attest to the value of Oli's help.

Courtesy of Common App

With the help of $1.4 million in grant funding from the Capital One Foundation, nearly 675,000 high school students applying to colleges through Common App have gained access to information on admissions and scholarship opportunities.

"The Capital One Foundation saw the need and stepped up to help by moving as quickly as possible to maximize the number of people that could be helped," says Eric Waldo, executive director of the Reach Higher Initiative at Common App. "Our colleagues at The Foundation have gone over the top to connect us with resources across their organization and are continuing to help us achieve our mission to assist as many students as possible through its continued support to the Class of 2021 and beyond."The result? Resources provided by Oli have saved students nearly 18,000 hours that traditionally would've been spent consulting with an advisor.

"Oli was my guardian angel," Albajari said. "As a first-generation college student, I didn't have the privilege to get the help I needed at home on my college journey. Even though Oli may be a robot, I felt like someone had my back."

The result? Resources provided by Oli have saved students nearly 18,000 hours that traditionally would've been spent consulting with an advisor.

"Oli was my guardian angel," Albajari said. "As a first-generation college student, I didn't have the privilege to get the help I needed at home on my college journey. Even though Oli may be a robot, I felt like someone had my back."

"It is imperative that all graduating high school students be equipped with the tools necessary to avoid delaying their dreams of attending college," says Andy Navarrete, Head of External Affairs at Capital One. "The playing field of opportunity in higher education has never been level, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made that fact more clear. We're committed to continuing our efforts to support equitable access and persistence for aspiring college students of all backgrounds."

That support from The Foundation comes alongside an initial $200 million, multi-year commitment from Capital One to advance socioeconomic mobility through the Capital One Impact Initiative.

In addition to exclusively funding the initial launch of the AI chatbot for Class of 2020 students, Capital One is continuing to expand this resource by contributing both financially and through pro bono support from its tech associates. Since the chatbot's inception, nine associates from Capital One have volunteered 500 hours of pro bono service to optimize the chatbot's ability to help prospective college students.

"As a first-generation college student, I remember having a lot of the same questions that students interacting with the chatbot were seeking answers to," says Elizabeth Souza, a Capital One associate who helped support the development of this chatbot. "Volunteering to support the development of this chatbot has been a tremendous opportunity to ensure equitable access to technology and resources for all."

Courtesy of Capital One

Those efforts in turn helped first-generation college student Jennifer Sanchez, a California native now finishing her freshman year at the University of La Verne. With the help of resources provided by the AI chatbot, Sanchez earned a scholarship, received a grant to help offset the cost of housing and was connected with councilors at each university she received admission to best decide which school would be the best fit for her.

"I was considering not even going to college because of how the pandemic financially impacted my family, but that chatbot gave me access to financial and educational resources that I would've never known existed without it," Sanchez said. "I think of that Oli like a friend. It supported me on my journey, like a friend would, every step of the way."

A little encouragement and access to the right information can take us places we never imagined.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Justine Tuckett's Instagram highlighting moments with dad.

Birthdays. Sports games. Holidays. Sharing a bowl of cereal on a Sunday afternoon … these are just some of the moments, big and small, that are missed when a parent is incarcerated. And sadly, they can't be replaced.

But sometimes, second chances do come around. For father and daughter Bill Lorance and Justine Tuckett, that second chance came in the form of a TikTok dance. They didn't take it for granted, and now they're making up for lost time. It's not only a win for the father-daughter duo, it shows how rehabilitation is possible and that people don't have to be defined by their mistakes.

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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