A mentor match-up app? Anything is possible with collaboration

Three women and one man working together around a table

How might industry and academia collaborate to prepare high school students for the changing workforce of tomorrow? This question was posed to a group of educators, nonprofit professionals, and vendors at a session that I attended at SXSWedu. Working in groups, the session participants developed solutions to address this question using IBM’s human-centered, design thinking approach.

The session’s organizers, two employees of IBM’s Design Studios, gave each group a persona representing a type of high school student. I was lucky to work with a fabulous group of ladies assigned a young woman who was a first-generation citizen. We named her Siri. Siri needed career advice but couldn’t turn to her parents because they were not familiar with the opportunities available in the US.

Our first step using the design thinking approach was to create an empathy map for Siri, which identified her hopes, fears, and challenges. Next we created needs statements to articulate what help she required. We brainstormed big ideas for meeting Siri’s needs and prioritized them based on her most pressing needs and the feasibility of developing our idea in the next two years. We then selected the most promising idea and storyboarded it so we could present it.

Mentor Match-up App Storyboard

The idea we chose was a Mentor Match-Up app, which would work like dating apps such as Match.com or Tinder. The app would match Siri up with a local mentor who would discuss career options with her and help her develop a plan for realizing her goals. Our storyboard presentation went like this:

  1. Siri, a first-generation citizen, needs career advice but her parents can’t assist her.
  2. She learns about the Mentor Match-Up app from her school counselor. She downloads the app and fills out a checklist of her strengths and weaknesses, her likes and dislikes, and the careers she may be interested in.
  3. The app matches her up with a local mentor who talks to her about career options. Siri is interested in health careers and is considering becoming a nurse.
  4. Siri’s mentor helps her develop a plan to become a nurse. But before she commits to a nursing career, he suggests that she shadow a nurse to make sure this career path is for her. He helps her make the arrangements at a local hospital.
  5. Siri shadows a nurse and decides that nursing is exactly what she wants to do with her life.
  6. Siri applies to a local college to earn her nursing degree.

Is there really a market for a Mentor Match-Up app? It’s hard to say without market research, but it’s nice to know that with collaboration—educators, nonprofits, and businesses working together—anything is possible.