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Three years ago, I decided to create a web-based resource that would connect high school students to research opportunities. I was 17, in my first year of college, and working as a research assistant at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The idea for the project was primarily influenced by my own high school experience doing an epidemiology study for a national level scholarship. That scholarship project was the single most influential part of my high school career. I founded Engage Summer Scholars to replicate that experience and help other high school students cultivate a love of learning and personal achievement.

Engage Summer Scholars is a summer research program that facilitates independent research for rising 9th through 12th grade students. We provide support throughout the research process, connect students with a community mentor, and provide scholarships for select participants. We do all of these things through our website by enrolling students, accepting submissions, and providing research tutorials online. The vision of Engage is to foster a love of learning in high school students regardless of their social position, academic achievement, or athletic performance. Participants choose the topic of their research (it can be anything!), design a project, complete the project over the course of a summer, and present their work at an end-of-summer seminar.

Between the initial planning stage during my time in New Zealand and the realization of Engage Summer Scholars, I finished my year in Auckland, moved to New York, and completed two years as a cadet at West Point. If not for tools readily available on the Internet, it would have been impossible for me to take on all of that while trying to develop and manage a scholarship program. Creating a web based program has the benefits of low operating costs and operational efficiency through the use of online tools. Anyone can use these advantages to influence change through online philanthropy.

Below are my four suggestions for helping you (efficiently) launch your online venture:

1) Plan First

'Measure twice, cut once,' is a principle that is essential to keeping your efforts as manageable as possible.  Before you turn your ideas into reality, spend a significant amount of time determining your mission and vision.  Once you’ve perfected your idea, identify exactly how you’re going to use the internet to accomplish it.  Give yourself time to reflect and make more improvements.  It’s likely that your original idea will be modified four or five times before you’re finally ready to implement it, but the delay will save you a lot of work in the long run.   I spent over a year refining my plan for Engage Summer Scholars to make sure that I could have the impact I wanted without spending all of my time managing the program.  During that process, I solicited advice and input from fifteen people ranging from classmates to my state senator.

2) Keep site development simple

Even if you don’t know the first thing about HTML, you can still set up a website with a relatively complex structure on your own.  Web development sites like SquareSpace.com and Weebly.com are intuitive to use, customizable, and affordable.  When I set up my site, I didn’t have the knowledge or the time to create a website from scratch.  With modest monetary investment and some time, I created a website that meets all of my needs by using a web development site.  Again, give yourself time to refine what you’ve done.  Continue to visit your page over time and edit, edit, edit before you hit publish.

The vision of Engage is to foster a love of learning in high school students regardless of their social position, academic achievement, or athletic performance.

3) Promote on social media

Everyone knows social media is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to promoting businesses and making professional connections.  The same ideas apply to raising awareness for your Social media is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to promoting businesses and making professional connections.  Create social media accounts that clearly represent what you’re doing and who you’re trying to reach.  Regular and meaningful media updates can help you connect with people that are willing to support you. For Engage, social media helps us stay in touch with supporters and keep open communication with the students that participate in our program.

4) Use automated tools to track and manage operations

Once your program is established, you have to keep it running!  Exactly how you accomplish this is entirely dependent on your mission and the nature of your project.  Consider what tasks occupy your time when it comes to everyday management, then search for the best online tools to reduce your workload.  For example, the Google Apps for Work is invaluable in helping me organize program enrollment and research submissions.  The app let me create multiple email pathways at my site domain.  Then, when people fill in forms or ask questions on the Engage Scholars website, that information automatically goes to organized, prioritized folders in my Gmail inbox.

A purely web-based project isn’t necessarily suitable for every startup.  However, if you have a passion for something and want to have an impact while keeping up with your already busy life, using these tips may help you accomplish your goal.  If you have ideas that you want to pursue or questions about Engage Summer Scholars, feel free to connect with me through my bSmart Guide profile.

Anna Gulbis is a cadet at West Point in the class of 2016. She is majoring in chemistry and has a minor in counter terrorism with the hope of joining the U.S. Army Chemical Corps upon her graduation. She is on the policy debate team and is also the head of the fine arts forum at USMA. Anna is passionate about ethics and education policy which led her to found Engage Summer Scholars, a research program for high school students.  In her free time she enjoys reading, yoga, and playing tennis.

 

To learn more about Engage Summer Scholars and be notified of their news and annoucements, follow their Spotlight here!

 

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