We strengthen relationships between students & counselors so each student feels supported and ready to navigate life after high school.

Photo of Mary Catherine Hanafee LaPlante
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Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

03/18/03 & 12/12/03

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

We have chosen to keep our project off of social media until the study is completed. professional @marycatherinehl

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Through outreach and research, we understand the vital role counselors play in ensuring the success of students in terms of academic achievement and mental health. There is a disparity in the effectiveness of school counseling programs across the US based on the socioeconomic status of each school district. Students of color are disproportionately affected by lack of adequate counseling.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are addressing the insufficiency of counseling by implementing one-on-one meetings between freshmen and their counselors. These meetings would familiarize students with the process of seeking help and enable each student to have a positive experience with their counselor. These meetings increase the chance that students will return to their counselor with any issues in the future. We are also implementing these meetings to 8th graders in Holliston, MA. To assess the success of these meetings, we are conducting a study at Prospect High School that has been recommended by the President of the Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA). This study will determine how one-on-one meetings affect student’s school performance, happiness, emotional health, and relationship with their school counselor. The President of the ISCA has also invited us to submit a proposal to speak at the annual ISCA conference in April 2020. We are also working extensively with the Massachusetts School Counselor Association (MSCA), which includes writing multiple articles for their monthly newsletter and working with various committees within the MSCA to implement our project in other MA schools.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Our project began when we were selected to work together in a case study competition for the Harvard Global Health and Leadership Conference in April 2019. We were paired together in December 2018 and worked on the case study for four months before presenting our project. We chose to study the relationship between students and their school counselors, and won first place in the competition! However, our journey had just begun. We worked incredibly well together and felt passionate about continuing our project further. The information we found while working on the case study was alarming and showed the importance of counselor-student relationships in the US. We realized we could have an enormous impact on students across the nation with our project. We live in two different states, which means communication can be challenging. However, we call at least once a week to work on this project.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

When a person gets involved in our project, they are participating in a study to assess one-on-one meetings. These students are freshmen or eighth-graders who benefit most from outreach-based counseling throughout their middle/high school years. Each student involved in the program will meet with their counselor twice a month. While these meetings are meant to cover positive topics to build a positive relationship between students and their counselors, any issues that the student is having can be discussed as well. School counseling can be a life-altering experience and help students succeed in life after high school. According to a study by the UofMass, students with adequate counseling in school are better adjusted in college, have more rewarding careers, and increased satisfaction in life. We intend to bring proper counseling to students nationwide.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

As students who are working to build student-counselor relationships, we are uniquely situated to bring a new perspective to the discussion. We have fostered a relationship with both the Illinois and Massachusetts School Counselor Associations. The adults leading these organizations are incredibly knowledgeable and want to work with us to improve the counseling experience for students. These relationships are the reason we feel that we are uniquely situated to have an enormous impact on school counseling programs nationwide. We passionately believe in the importance of the task ahead of us.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Although our project is just beginning, we have already seen the effect it has had on students with their counselors in our schools. We have heard from many students who have reached out to their counselor with an issue and were completely ignored. Another student shared that her counselor was never in the office and didn’t respond to emails. One girl explained that she was hospitalized for mental health issues during the school year, and had a difficult transition back to high school; her counselor never reached out when she returned to school, despite knowing that this girl had been hospitalized. We heard countless stories showing the flaws in the counseling programs, and we believe that our project can change the programs for the better to promote greater connectivity between each student and their counselor.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We plan to reach out to other schools to pitch our project and convince them that these meetings are both feasible and beneficial to students. Through a presentation to professional counselors at the ISCA’s conference in April 2020, we hope to make connections and partnerships with counselors across Illinois. We have been invited to present at the 2020 Harvard Global Health and Leadership Conference in Massachusetts in front of esteemed Harvard professors, undergraduates, and graduate students. We would also like to start a non-profit organization that helps schools across the country. This organization would allow us to advocate for better relationships between counselors and students.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Management

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

We discovered this challenge through the HERlead fellowship.


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