The Story Exchange, Jacqueline Abrams, YessayYour Name: Jacqueline Abrams

Business Name: Yessay, a service to help students write application essays

Type of Business: Education Technology

Business Location: Santa Monica, California, United States

Reason for starting
Writing is an essential skill that has as much to do with our capacity for thought as it does with our ability to communicate with one another. When writing instruction is successful, students push the boundaries of their own thinking and open up wider horizons for understanding. For the past ten years, I taught writing at various institutions, ranging from NYU and Emory University to community colleges in California. Because I saw firsthand how students’ increased confidence in writing extended beyond the classroom, I knew that I wanted to create an online platform to reach a wider audience. Yessay is starting with the college application essay in particular because it is a very clearly defined assignment, and from there, we hope to expand into other areas of writing.

How do you define success?
Success is a very personal, internal feeling of gratitude. It is the good fortune of being able to look at one’s own circumstances and feel contentment, safety, and generosity.

Biggest Success
There’s so much great energy in the ed tech space right now. And yet, because writing is so subjective and qualitative, we tend to think of it as a teaching process that can’t be automated, unlike math or science, which can be tested and graded. Given these constraints, success is hard to map. And yet, our team experienced profound excitement when we rolled out our first prototype with a number of students. Their enthusiasm over their own writing–writing they were able to produce because of our platform–was huge!

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our biggest challenge is to create a strong peer network of users who value each other’s feedback and engage in the workshopping process. To address it, we have created features that incentivize students to seek each other’s feedback (through gamification, as well as helpful hints on how to provide constructive criticism on each other’s writing). We work against students’ own inhibitions to share their work because we firmly believe that our peers can be our best readers.

Who is your most important role model?
My role model would be a conglomeration of so many people around me. The extreme brilliance of my professors in graduate school, the creativity of the artists I know, the love of my family, the adventuresome spirit, wisdom, and hard work of my closest friends, and the strength that I have surprised myself with in my most difficult moments. All of that rolled into one.