Education can change the world, but only when people have access to it. Using the power of storytelling, Dyllen Nellis ensures that no student is left behind on the next big step in higher education.
The young entrepreneur created a high-value, low-cost online platform college essay writing course which shows students how to promote their personal values and create an application that increases their chances of getting into top colleges. Now, a few years after winning a $10,000 OZY Genius Prize, she’s devised a way to provide the course for free to underprivileged students.
“My college essay course prevents stress, optimizes students’ time, and maximizes their chances of being accepted into their dream colleges,” Nellis told OZY. “He walks them step-by-step through the process and teaches all the strategies I’ve learned over years of research and working with students.”
Nellis knows his stuff. For her own college application, she scoured numerous articles, books, and videos to learn about the ins and outs of the process, resulting in a 100% acceptance rate at the eight colleges she attended. applied. This experience and knowledge was transformed into a step-by-step strategy that she incorporated into a course designed to make higher education an accessible goal for all students, regardless of background.
Break down the barriers
“Most public high schools in the United States currently have too few counselors to meet all of the student needs for one-on-one college essay writing coaching,” Nellis said. “Without proper guidance, students consequently lack a strategy to convey their full potential to colleges,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be like that.”
An entire industry has formed to help rising high school students apply to college, but many first-generation and low-income students cannot afford counseling fees, and these economic barriers become a major disadvantage for many. many otherwise high-achieving students. Nellis’ goal is to fill this information gap by broadening the scope of his course.
“I envision my college essay course being available to all students regardless of income level,” she said.
To do this, Nellis seeks to partner with high schools and other organizations to integrate its academic writing course into their curricula. The resource needed to write winning college essays exists now, Nellis said. “We just need to put this resource in their hands.”
In addition to helping students hone their writing prowess, Nellis’ course provides them with information to develop “self-awareness, storytelling, time management and organizational skills,” said the young entrepreneur.
By opening doors to top colleges, the program also aims to help aspiring students “unlock a better understanding of themselves and build greater self-confidence,” Nellis said.
Fulfilling its goal of providing a course that helps students get into the schools of their dreams and “better their lives,” the program includes exercises that promote mental health. “This year in particular, I learned the importance of self-care,” Nellis said. “I tend to set extremely ambitious goals and push myself to achieve them, but that can’t come at the expense of my well-being.”
road to success
Writing a college essay is generally considered a stressful process, but Nellis insists it can actually be fun once students become more comfortable and confident in their writing. It’s a chance to discover yourself and communicate your personal values effectively, she says, adding that her course guides students every step of the way. “Students will learn strategy and set themselves on the path to success,” Nellis explained.
After accepting an offer to study at Stanford, Nellis is now studying a self-created major called Human-Centered Design and Engineering. “It’s like a mix of IT, entrepreneurship, product design and psychology,” she said — all of which help her passion-turned-business thrive.
“Everyone has a story to tell, no matter how big or small they are,” OZY Genius said. “So many students have great stories to tell, but they just don’t know how to best communicate them.”
Thanks to Nellis, more students find the right words.
— by Sarah Brown
WATCH DYLLEN + TONY
Building the future We Want to see: OGA winner Tony Shu
It is no small task to identify the myriad of problems facing the world today. The biggest challenges involve how to make positive changes and where to start.OZY Genius Award Winner Tony Shu has something to say about it.
In 2018, as a Harvard student While volunteering at a student-run shelter, Shu discovered that homeless youth “wanted jobs more than housing.” To solve this problem, Shu, along with his classmate Connor Schoen, founded Pause, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of homelessness and unemployment they witnessed firsthand. The two students rallied the city of Boston, as well as various partners in the region, to helping young adults “get their first job to catalyze a positive cycle of skills development, new jobs and, eventually, stable housing.”
In 2020, while working remotely during the pandemic as full-time college students, Shu and Schoen successfully trained and employed 25 homeless young adults to prepare and deliver 650,000 meals to Boston families. In 2021 alone, Shu and his team have raised over $1.6 million in funding to support their mission. “Breaktime has now created employment opportunities for over 125 homeless young adults; 83% of our alumni are continuing their studies or continuing their education, and 77% of them are now in stable housing,” says Shu.
Help people help people
The mission did not stop there. By listening to the people they were helping, Shu and his partners identified another crucial need: to create community and the opportunity to be of service to others. “The stereotype of people who get help is that they need other people’s help, whereas the jobs at Breaktime have allowed them to use their skills and talents to give back,” says Shu.
For Shu, it wasn’t just about how to “use our privilege in the service of others”, but discover how to give — far from being onerous or difficult — satisfies a basic human drive.
Bringing about positive change is usually not easy. But when someone believes in you, the task seems to become a little lighter, Shu says. And as a recipient of a OZY Genius Awards in 2021he found that having someone who believed “in the power and potential of young people” was “aligned with our values” and helped to broaden “the awareness of our organization and the resilience, hope and hard work embodied by the Young Adult Associates of Breaktime”.
Shu says being a change agent takes patience, strong relationships and strong character. “I think a lot of young people have a vision of how they want to improve their communities and the world, and we all want that change to happen quickly,” he says. “Change really takes longer than you think or want, but that time gives you the opportunity to build a strong foundation, build relationships and grow personally so your team can rise to the challenge at the right time. moment.”
In a time when things happen at lightning speed and serious issues seem to require quick action, Shu reminds us that we also need to be patient and kind to others and to ourselves. “It’s important to take action every day to move the ball forward, but social change is really a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “We all need to take breaks, take care of ourselves and others, and not take things too seriously!”
Shu hopes Breaktime’s story will help inspire the OZY community to learn more and take action to help end youth homelessness, which affects 1 in 10 young adults in the United States, according to research by the University of Chicago. “It’s a challenge we can solve, but it will take engaging community members, political leaders, funders and more,” he says.
Shu also hopes his experience building Breaktime will inspire other young people “to dive deep into the societal challenges that matter to them.” Everyone has something to give, he says. “No matter what experiences or skills we have or not, we always have the ability to keep our eyes peeled for the challenges that others, or ourselves, encounter,” says Shu. “Deep understanding of problems is the seed of innovation. If there is an issue you care about, get involved, join an organization. Or if there is a gap in the ecosystem, build your own initiative! We all have the chance to actively build the future we want to see.
-By Jennifer Ladonne
OZY is a diversified, global, forward-looking media and entertainment company focused on “new and next.” OZY creates space for new perspectives and provides fresh perspectives on everything from news and culture to technology, business, learning and entertainment.