Students + Campus

App ties class attendance to donations that help homeless kids

UCLA grad student’s startup derives from her drive for social innovation

Yoomi Chin
Joanie Harmon/UCLA

Yoomi Chin, a Ph.D. student at UCLA, has created a startup with a friend that offers an app that helps instructors take class attendance while also helping students keep track of course requirements and deadlines. But the app has a twist: The higher the class attendance, the larger the donation the startup makes to a nonprofit that helps homeless K-12 youth.

A Ph.D. student at UCLA has created a startup with a friend to offer a geolocation-based app that they created to assist instructors with taking class attendance while also helping students keep up with course requirements and deadlines. But there’s a twist.

Yoomi Chin’s goal for their startup Arkaive isn’t personal wealth. In fact, a large part of the subscription fee that instructors pay to use the app is donated to School on Wheels, an L.A. skid row-based nonprofit that has been providing tutoring and mentoring to homeless K-12 youth since 1993.

“We ask professors to pay $9.99 a month [to use the app] for an unlimited number of students and classes,” says Chin, who is in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. “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 net subscription of $9.99 that you pay to use our service to help homeless students.”

Knowing that their attendance is tied to the amount that will be donated to a good cause can motivate some students to make it to class more regularly, she said.

“We wanted college students to be aware that just by going to their classes regularly, they’re helping underserved homeless children,” Chin 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 are going to and how it’s helping kids.”

Recently, the app caught the attention of UNICEF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. In November, Chin and her business partner, Jaewoo Kim, were invited to represent their company at the Global Innovations for Children and Youth in Helsinki, Finland, alongside 500 other academic, technological and business innovators and representatives from multinational organizations such as the United Nations.

“There were people [there] from global corporates like Philips and many startups like ours that are making social innovations,” Chin said. “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.”

So far, the year-old startup has about 20 clients nationwide, including in California where a UCLA political science professor has become an app user. The young entrepreneurs are also planning to launch another product that will serve as a platform where high school and college students can store and archive all their academic data and have access to résumé-building and counseling tools.

For now, Chin and her business partner Jaewoo Kim are hoping to get more professors and students to use their attendance app. The app is free to students — only professors pay the fee — and includes features such as reminders to students to drop classes before the deadline to withdraw without a grade.

“Taking attendance is really tedious, but that’s the first step in getting students to come to class,” explains Chin, who works as an academic adviser and teaching assistant in the communication studies department in the UCLA College. With course podcasts and other technologies now available to college students everywhere, she said, “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.”

Chin, who was born Seoul, Korea, but grew up in Indonesia, says that she was drawn to study education at UCLA five years ago because of the graduate school’s commitment to “the philosophy of social justice.”

“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 credits the faculty in the Division of Social Sciences and Comparative Education, including Carlos Alberto Torres and Douglas Kellner, 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 November.”

Chin has channeled all the lessons she has learned about social justice into #OneStreetOver, the participatory philanthropy movement she created that is supported by profits from Arkaive.

“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 [to show them] that you can do so much on a local basis and actually make a difference in people’s lives with one small action.”

Read the complete story in Ampersand, the online journal of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

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