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Yoomi Chin: Ph.D. Candidate Creates Ed Tech Company That Helps Professors Take Attendance

When Yoomi Chin’s father was transferred by his company to an office in Indonesia, she attended an international school that was located in the middle of a Jakarta slum.

“There were high walls that surrounded our campus. You would walk outside the campus one street over, and see kids living in cardboard houses like shelters, swimming in the river which was not at all hygienic,” recalls Chin, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s division of Social Sciences and Comparative Education (SSCE). “I would ask my mom, ‘Why are they so different?’ and she would say, ‘It’s you who are different. Not everyone has what you have.’ My parents tried to [develop] that social consciousness at an early age.”

Chin has channeled those lessons into a participatory philanthropy movement titled #OneStreetOver, which is supported by profits from Arkaive, the educational technology startup that she created with longtime friend Jaewoo Kim last year. The company provides a geolocation-based attendance tracking app that makes taking attendance easy for instructors while helping students navigate the often labyrinthine system of academic records.

“Taking attendance is really tedious, but that’s the first step in getting students to come to class,” says Chin, who works as an academic advisor and teaches a Communication Studies class of 250 students at UCLA. “College absenteeism [is] becoming a serious issue because of technology. There are podcasts, students don’t feel really encouraged or motivated to go to class. It’s only through attendance that they can be part of the shared classroom dialogue.”

The Arkaive app is free for students; professors pay a nominal fee of $9.99 a month for an unlimited number of students and classes. For students, the app includes features such as reminders to drop classes before the deadline to withdraw without a grade, which can negatively affect their transcript. In addition, Arkaive gives college students and their professors the chance to help homeless students in their local communities by donating a percentage of the monthly net subscription fee as commensurate with the percentage of students’ attendance.

“We ask professors to pay $9.99 a month for an unlimited number of students and classes,” says Chin. “Let’s say you’re a professor with 200 students. At the end of each month, we look at the average attendance rate of your class and it’s 80 percent. We donate 80 percent of the $9.99 that you pay to use our service to help homeless [elementary] students.”

Currently, profits from Arkaive’s California clients are going to help School on Wheels, a Skid Row-based nonprofit in Los Angeles. Chin says that this support aims to give the homeless children more educational opportunities and set them on a college-bound path.

“The way we envisioned this is we wanted college students to be aware that just by going to their classes regularly, they’re helping underserved homeless children,” she says. “We’re also thinking about doing some volunteer work later on where we can invite our student users to meet with the homeless children for a daylong workshop or a field trip so that they can actually see where their attendance and participation is going to and how it’s helping kids.

“The coordinator at School on Wheels [told me] how kids there in their organization are redefining education, because they live in cars and motels,” says Chin. “They love to go to School on Wheels after school because it’s a safe and fun place for them. I went there one afternoon when the kids started to come in. They were little kids who deserve all the happiness and all the childhood memories of education that [most] UCLA students had when they were growing up. Why shouldn’t these kids have that same experience?”

Chin says that Arkaive is seeking more professors and students in order to help more homeless children across the nation, and is planning to launch a product that will serve as a platform where high school and college students cannot only store and archive all their academic data, as well as plan their futures through resume building and counseling tools. In the meantime, Arkaive caught the attention of UNICEF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, and in November, Chin and Kim represented their company at the Global Innovations for Children and Youth Summit alongside 500 other academic, technological, and business innovators and representatives from multi-national organizations such as the United Nations.

“I sent them our business model and proposal and they accepted us,” says Chin who serves as Arkaive’s CMO and communications director. “There were representatives from big corporations, like Rovio, the company that created “Angry Birds.” It’s actually a Finnish company, and they have an education division that is trying to make a difference in the lives of children. There were people from global corporates like Philips and many startups like ours that are making social innovations. We all sat together and talked about how we could bring technology to change the lives of people and scale up to make positive impacts. Many of the apps and services had to do with health care. For example, in one of the countries in Africa, a startup created an app where girls or single mothers could connect with medical centers and hospitals with just one tap on their cell phone.

“In the past, multinational organizations only worked with nonprofits and government and school organizations,” notes Chin. But they’re starting to realize that it’s actually for-profit businesses that have money to be able to make more impact on those who are in need.”

Chin’s dissertation is focused on the impact of mass media on women’s higher education, namely on how women interpret messages in mass media, define success, and plan their futures based on media influences.

“I grew up watching TV and all the Disney movies,” she says. “I never realized how much influence all this media had on the way we perceive the world and construct our own values. I come from a family that’s pretty progressive. My parents tried to raise me as an independent woman. That’s why I decided to pursue my Ph.D., which is not common in Korea. Not many women go beyond a college degree.

“When I went to Korea a few years ago before I joined my Ph.D. program, I was shocked by the fact that Korean women were very different from me [as far as] the values they had and what they wanted to accomplish,” says Chin, who earned her undergrad degree at USC in comparative literature and with a minor in Spanish literature. I realized that the image of women as successful came from my parents and all the documentaries and movies I watched growing up; that’s how I gained my identity.”

Chin says that she was drawn to study education at UCLA because of the graduate school’s commitment to “the philosophy of social justice.” “I joined UCLA five years ago, in 2010. Now I look back at what I was five years ago and what I am now: they are two totally different people. When I first came in, I thought social justice was easily achievable – maybe I was too naïve back then. In the last four or five years, I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to achieve something that should be achieved easily.”

Chin says that she credits UCLA Ed Professors Carlos Alberto Torres and Douglas Kellner as well as the entire SSCE faculty for transforming her into “a wiser person who can see and approach things from multi-perspective levels. If not for their encouragement and support, I wouldn’t have flown out to Helsinki last month.

“Growing up in a developing country, I was always interested in international relations,” she says. “I wanted to be an interpreter for the United Nations, but that never actually happened. Sitting in a huge conference room with 500 international scholars, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, and philanthropists was my dream come true.”

Chin says that her lessons in global citizenship, participatory education and critical pedagogy have influenced both her education and her vision of what she would like to achieve with Arkaive.

“Having spent the past five years researching and learning about social justice, I always wondered why there is a broken link between higher education and the larger society out there. We always talk about how important it is to have democracy and equality and access. But it stops there – it stays within the walls of academia. The talk on social justice and participatory education often ends up being the talk, and never the walk. Students don’t get to do anything about these core values they always talk about. That’s why I wanted to incorporate something into Arkaive – a way to bridge the [outside] community with higher education. #OneStreetOver helps both educators and students walk their talk.

“When we started thinking about what group we could help with Arkaive’s profits, we thought about sending money to Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia. But then we thought, ‘There are so many people within this community who need help. Why do we need to send our money 5,000 miles away when there are people we can help within a 50- mile distance?’ We also wanted to give that closer tie between college students and their local community.

“The changes I’m trying to bring to this community are still small, but in the long run, I think they are going to make a significant impact. I want to bring that awareness to people that you can do so much on a local basis and actually make a difference in people’s lives with one small action.”