WASHINGTON, PA (Feb. 21, 2013)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) graduates Wahab Owolabi ’09 and Tony Zanders ’07 have been named two of only 20 winners of the College Knowledge Challenge, a competition hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to award funding for Facebook applications that make the process of applying and getting accepted to college more transparent for low-income and first-generation students.
Zanders and Owolabi both received $100,000 grants.
Based in Boston, Mass., Zanders’ education start-up, Applyful, Inc., is betting on three industry trends to make an impact on the college selection process: social media, peer-to-peer sharing, and big data. Currently in private beta testing, Applyful is a collaborative college selection platform, designed for college applicants to collect and share information about colleges with one another. As applicants use Applyful to manage research during the application process, Applyful surfaces trends and insights to encourage more informed decision-making, while developing peer groups to offer support and broaden one another’s horizons.
“I’ve always believed that the technology at our disposal today could have a meaningful impact on students much earlier in the college selection process,” Zanders said “Applyful was designed to measure a student’s behavior from day one, the moment a decision has been made to consider attending college. This could be during the eighth grade, spring semester of junior year, or as an adult who decides to go back later in life.”
The College People LLC is a Pittsburgh-based company started by former higher education administrator Owolabi and Carnegie Mellon University engineering student Neil Soni with the mission of creating software to increase college access and provide tools for education administrators.
“Our first product, CollegeZen.com, is a community-centered web application that simplifies the college search, decision, and funding process while enhancing the experience for prospective students and parents with the belief that there is a perfect college for every student,” Owolabi said.
CollegeZen.com uses a proprietary algorithm and social tools to educate students on how to find, apply to, and what it takes to get accepted by the best college for them all with a career focus powered by its partnership with LinkedIn.
Owolabi added that 26 high schools are committed to piloting the beta launch, allowing the product to reach more than 17,000 students as well as every student attending a Pittsburgh Public School qualified for the $40,000 Promise College scholarship.
By linking with Facebook, the Gates Challenge seeks to drive creative apps that utilize the unique capabilities of and student interest in the world’s largest social network. The Challenge is open to for-profit and non-profit organizations from any field of expertise.