Heroes

This teen's app stops cyberbullying, and she's just one innovator in this competition.

Innovators are using technology to create impact on a massive scale.

This teen's app stops cyberbullying, and she's just one innovator in this competition.
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Comcast NBCUniversal & NationSwell

In 2013, Trisha Prabhu read a news story that broke her heart — a 12-year-old girl had taken her life after experiencing cyberbullying.

Prabhu was only 13 at the time and couldn't understand someone younger than her taking her own life. However, instead of processing her shock and moving on, she decided to do something about it.

"I started thinking about what I could do to stop this from ever happening again," writes Prabhu in an email.


Trisha Prabhu. Photo via Trisha Prabhu.

The inner workings of the brain had always fascinated Prabhu, so she decided to research adolescent behavior as it relates to cyberbullying for a science fair. What she found was startling — adolescents are 50% more likely to impulsively post hateful things online than adults because the part of their brains that makes decisions isn't fully developed yet.

Armed with that knowledge and her coding skills, Prabhu began working on an app designed to fight cyberbullying.

She called it ReThink.

According to her research, if given the chance, adolescents will change their minds and not post a hurtful message 93% of the time. With the help of her teachers, her parents, and endless Googling, Prabhu developed the ReThink app, which detects a hateful message before it's sent and gives the creator the option of deleting it.

Photo via Summer Skyes 11/Flickr.

The app is now available for most smartphones and tablets, and so far, over 3,000 schools have adopted it. Not only has it received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents, students, teachers, and law enforcement officials, it has been awarded scientific merit by Google, MIT, Northwestern University, WebMD, and even the White House. Today, Prabhu is traveling the world, speaking out against cyberbullying and advocating for STEM education, especially for young women. At only 17, she's certainly an innovator to watch.

That's why she's one of the 2017 Tech Impact AllStars. Presented by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, Prabhu is one of five social innovators who are using technology to solve problems in their communities.

And she's in good company. Here's a look at four other trailblazers making a major impact on the tech world.

1. Dan Rhoton, Executive Director of Hopeworks 'N Camden, is preparing at-risk youths for careers in tech.

Not only does the nonprofit provide job training support, it offers counseling for kids who've experienced all levels of trauma.

Dan Rhoton. Photo via NationSwell.

This is why their mission states, "we believe every youth, no matter their history, has the ability to succeed and thrive. Not just survive."

Rhoton joined Hopeworks in 2012, and helped direct its focus on trauma support. As a result, the program's college enrollment numbers increased more than 300% and job placement by 70%.

2. Felecia Hatcher-Pearson, Co-founder of Code Fever, is helping to bring more people of color to the tech community table.

Felecia Hatcher-Pearson. Photo via NationSwell.

Hatcher-Pearson runs a coding and entrepreneur training facility in Miami called Code Fever for kids age 13 to 21. The organization was specifically created to help underserved minorities break into various STEM fields and take up leadership positions in order to level the cultural imbalance that currently exists.

Hatcher-Pearson's no stranger to overcoming obstacles. When she was younger, her guidance counselor told her she didn't have the grades to get into college, so she taught herself how to code and landed over $130,000 in scholarship funds. She's basically the archetype for the idea "if you can dream it, you can be it," so now she's made it her mission to inspire others. She's already introduced over 3,000 kids and adults to the tech ecosystem.

3. Kelsey Foster, Campaign Director for the Committee for a Better New Orleans, is using a video game to make city budgets more accessible to the people of New Orleans.

Kelsey Foster. Photo via NationSwell.

Public finances aren't exactly the easiest things to understand, especially for the majority of people directly affected by them. That's why Kelsey Foster helped come up with a user-friendly video game to clearly show them how it all works.

It's called the Big Easy Budget Game, and it allows residents to see just how city budgets are balanced and where their hard-earned tax dollars go. Users play the mayor and are allotted the same budget (simulated, of course) to dispense where they see fit. Who says budgeting has to be boring?

Right now, 80% of New Orleans' population feels neglected when it comes to budget decisions. Foster knew it was high time they found a way to include them in the conversation, which is why the data the game collects is being used to inform voters ahead of the mayoral election.

4. Jeremy Peskin, Co-founder of Borderwise, is streamlining the citizenship process for undocumented immigrants.

Jeremy Peskin. Photo via NationSwell.

Before Peskin became an American citizen, he always feared he'd be deported when he traveled back to see his family in Canada. He wanted to find a way to eliminate that fear for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

He created Borderwise in 2016 to reduce the cost for immigrants to achieve citizenship status and to make the application process much easier to digest. By putting all the paperwork online, costs are lowered from thousands to just $500. Peskin hopes this will help more immigrants, who might otherwise be unsure how to proceed, apply for citizenship.

While only in its first year, the program's already helped hundreds of immigrants get the process underway.

Developing technology is an ongoing process, but with such brilliant minds like the ones above at the helm, there's no telling what a difference they'll make.

Innovations like these have the power to change millions of lives, especially in the hands of compassionate creators.

Prabhu put it succinctly: "If I am working on making the world around me a better place, in ways big or small, I would consider myself to be on the right track."

Vote for your favorite 2017 Tech Impact AllStars presented by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal from October 2nd through November 2nd by clicking here.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around 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!

Photo by Tod Perry

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