(Project) Illuminate

A web-platform to help students research and discover a multitude of educational opportunities available to them.

Photo of Makenna Turner
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Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

March 2, 2002

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


Date You Started Your Project Started


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

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

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

Underserved students lack access to knowledge about the educational opportunities open to them and the potential benefits of taking advantage of those opportunities.

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

I have spent a (disgusting) number of hours throughout high school researching and parsing through programs, scholarships, fellowships, and experiences of all kinds in search of opportunities which interest me as a student. To many students at my school and beyond, I am an almost bottomless directory of resources and knowledge about how they can further their education beyond the confines of a classroom. As a student also interest in technology and who enjoys doing web development in their free time, I decided to put my skills to good use and make a platform that students could access 24/7 and find out more information about the opportunities I like to tell them about. On the website, I have created a backend query which generates itself based off a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet is a collection of opportunities which I have sourced throughout the years, along with the contributions of other students. Over the summer, to gain exposure for the project, I pitched it to a group of education experts and students at Princeton University who have now been able to spread the resource into their own communities across the country.

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

My mother has always been the central figure in my life. I, her first and only child, was born in 2002— she was a 22-year-old college student who, despite setbacks and delay, refused to give up on her education so easily. She never failed to voice how much my education meant to her, and how much she wished that I would always pursue knowledge. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it led to the closure of more than 260 schools on the island. Seeing students like myself struggle to get an education led me to I run a 6-month campaign to bring school supplies to children on the island. There I realized how many students across the nation lack access to knowledge about educational opportunities, leading me to start (Project) Illuminate— so students like those in Puerto Rico who lack knowledge about educational opportunities in their communities can learn about them.

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.

I met a student from Chicago this summer who was eager to help other students learn about an opportunity meaningful to him, he sent me details about the program that night, including an anecdote of his own experiences with the program. Both students getting involved by adding to the resource with their own experiences or by sharing the platform with others to use are helping to progress the platform because both contributions mean more resources are accessible to students across the country.

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

One platform with a similar goal is called Peerlift. One of the main reasons why I felt their platform was different from the goal of my platform is because it tends to have inaccurate or out of date information which is not helpful to students and is difficult to navigate on mobile. The resources posted on Illuminate are only those which I and other students have applied to or participated in, allowing us to give more guidance than just a program or web description. I also spent over a month working to optimize my website for multi-platform use, even learning a new web framework to do so.

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

Despite Project Illuminate being in its development phase, more than 14,000 individual hits have been registered on my project’s web server. The project website began development in late June, with better search engine optimization more students will be able to find the web platform when searching for different educational programs and experiences. I have also been able to reach out to students I know across the country and have gotten numerous inquiries to add the experiences others want fellow students to learn about, as well as people connecting their friends and family with me and the website to find opportunities that fit their interests.

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

I am working to partner with the Computer Science Honor Society at my high school to better optimize the website so it shows up earlier on search engines like Google, so more students will see it as a resource. I am also working to add more detailed and thorough descriptions to the resources on the website, so students understand not only how to take advantage of certain opportunities but most importantly why they should. I am hoping to utilize my position as a member of my school district’s Youth Leadership Committee to spread the resource beyond my school, as well as distribute branded media to fellow students in hopes of increasing my exposure within my relative community.

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

  • Writing/Editing

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

  • Friend support
  • Family support

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

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc) (8)

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

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

Attachments (1)


This is the project proposal I created for myself when I began its development.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tia Johnston Brown

The website is very user friendly and accessible. Now the challenge is getting the word out!

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