Join The Bloc

Using Artificial Intelligence To Empower, Rather Than Displace

Photo of Riley Jones
9 4

Written by

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

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

December 17, 1994

Where are you located:

My Location-- NY : New York (10025) | Impact Locations-- GA: Atlanta (30302, 30314) | IL: Chicago (60649) | NY: New York (10027)

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

http://jointhebloc.com -- General Website
http://cmc.blocportal.com -- Portal Demo

Date Started

05/22/2016

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. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

When I decided to venture off to Columbia University for college, I was met with a world that was completely unfamiliar to me. My neighborhood in Chicago was not only segregated by race, but also by opportunity. Learning how to navigate an elite school like Columbia was a mystery and a challenge. I co-founded Bloc because I want students who come after me to have a better shot at pursuing their goals. It's not something I take lightly. As a Political Science student, I understand very well the ramifications of a systematic lack of economic opportunity. I also understand that it is our problem, as a society, to deal with collectively. Technology is a way to impute urgency and immediacy to the problems that we face. I'm humbled that I'm able to step up and do my part for the community which has formed much of my identity as a changemaker.

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

Bloc addresses two key issues facing college students of color (SOC):
- the digitalization divide, which is more than a wage gap. SOC are frequently tracked into low paying, unsustainable, professions; and
- high college dropout rates. SOC have a dropout rate that is three times as high as their peers and typically take on more than $37,000 in student debt and, if they drop out, gain no long term salary advantage

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

We allow administrator of youth focused non-profits and workforce development organizations to build digital career portals for their students. Through this, their students are able to take advantage of the digital tools we offer-- a resume builder, cover letter generator, and resume reviewer. In two minutes, administrators can register for Bloc and create their own portal with personalized branding. Throughout on-boarding, customers can select the design of their portal, select career tools that are a best for their students (ie smart resume template, resume reviewer, cover letter generator) and leverage our integrations with Jopwell, Indeed and The Muse.

We are currently using AI in our portals in two ways:
1. Recommendations: We are leveraging an AI recommendation technique, collaborative filtering, to connect students with resources related to their identities.
2. Matching with Career Outlooks: After students complete their profile quizzes, they are taken to their dashboard where they have access to our smart tools but also have access to salary snapshots.

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

Chelsea, who runs the non-profit WEBelieve, uses our software to create a career coaching portal for her group of young women leaders across the United States. Within 5 minutes, she's able to launch the portal and send it to the students she works with. They can: create a profile, take a profile quiz to learn about them, build their resume, build their cover letter, and be connected to opportunities based on their location, demographic, and industry of interest. Their responses also trigger automated email check-ins with students and to alert Chelsea about students who might be in need of additional support. Chelsea is able to track and manage all 8 campuses across the United States successfully by looking at the dashboard within the platform. This frees her and her staff up to do more work to strengthen her organization's offerings to the students.

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

We differ in a couple of key ways. We offer a simple tiered pricing option that allows us to reach out to individual student affairs offices and departments as customers before or after successfully onboarding an entire campuses’ career services department. Along with a simple payment system, our onboarding process is also extremely simple and fast. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we are from the marginalized communities we are building this for. I was only able to attend college because of scholarships that existed for Black and low-income students. These things deeply inform my work.

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

We've developed a national reach, interacting with ~12,000 black college students through networking conferences, resume workshops and presentations. Nine months ago, we added a technology component to our services so we could accelerate our ability to scale and build a more sustainable revenue stream.

We’ve made several new developments over the last quarter including:

-Completed beta version of our platform for administrators and counselors to build portals for their students
-Implemented smart resume template with CUNY Office of Special Projects;
-Conducted research with Morehouse College to better understand students’ professional needs on a historically black campus
-initiated research and implementation efforts using natural language generation and artificial intelligence to enhance personalization capabilities within our platform.

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

We are developing a Natural Language Generation model for our resume and cover letter templates. Moving a step beyond the simple algorithm that drives our resume reviewer, students will be able to get automated corrections for their resume bullets and cover letter sentences. This effort is spearheaded by our technical adviser who works in natural language generation research at Google. We are collaborating with 15 nonprofits (including the National Urban League, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and Be the Change Venture) to collect resume bullets and cover letter sentences (with corrections) for our initial dataset.
We are planning our official launch in August 2018. Our target is reaching 60,000 students through our AI career coaching.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Key roles we hope to fill include an artificial intelligence researcher and business development manager. We are also in the process of raising $100,000, which will support our software costs and marketing campaigns throughout the fall and winter. We'd also appreciate advice on how to navigate relationships in government at the federal, state and municipal levels.

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

As someone who was actively involved in scholarship programs like the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Questbridge, I have been able to galvanize support from friends and mentors. The quality of their advice as well as their academic and professional caliber is unmatched. Many of my friends are also my target demographic in that they run youth-focused non-profits or volunteer with them. I am also a member of Columbia's Black Alumni Council and am able to work directly with the Center for Career Education to learn best practices in student support. All these things make a huge difference. It would be great to partner with other changemakers who are involved in youth development work or career preparation. We could also support them by helping them figure out how to integrate technology into their workflow to make their jobs easier. Ashoka Changemakers like Our Future, South Bronx United, and College Pathways from Rikers Island are exactly the types of organizations that are ripe for us to partner with and learn from. There are also changemaker entries in this challenge that would benefit from the work we're doing.

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

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 40%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 40%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 40%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 40%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 60%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

9 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Hannah and Zoha
Team

Love the idea! Zoha and I are co-founders of the NGO HER (Her Education is Her Right) and while we are not working on similar issues we are inspired by your enthusiasm and idea. We attend Sidwell Friends High School in Washington D.C. and have spend a lot to time discussing ways to address the problems you are taking on. We cheer you on. Hannah and Zoha

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