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Why Making Waves Is Using AI Advising to Support Students

by Patrick O’Donnell

Making Waves Education Foundation » News Stories » Why Making Waves Is Using AI Advising to Support Students

Graduating from college is one of life’s greatest triumphs. With that diploma in hand, graduates are ready to start the next chapter of their lives knowing they have what it takes to succeed. But for high school students with limited financial resources, who are the first in their family to go to college, simply applying to college can be a process filled with systemic barriers.  

Teenagers often experience real stress over questions about the college admissions process. Can my family actually afford this? What kind of school is right for me? And if they’re the first in their family to apply to college or they don’t have access to knowledge around the college admissions and financial aid processes, they may question whether higher education is something they should pursue. Taken together, this compounds decision-making and creates additional barriers to success.   

As we pilot our new AI college advisor at Making Waves Foundation, we hope we can help remove those barriers. 

Closing gaps in college attendance 

Our mission at Making Waves is to expand educational opportunity and support students on their pathway to college and career. As part of this, we are working to support more students to attend and graduate from college. A recent National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, study found that only 29% of public high schools reported having a dedicated college advisor. We’re aiming to address this gap and help close college attendance gaps by leveraging technology to get college knowledge and guidance directly into the hands of students and families, at scale. 

Jon Siapno, our director of product innovation, is developing and piloting a model for distributing college advising resources by automating Making Waves’ college access content and developing a text-based chatbot.   

We are aiming to put information about the college process directly into the hands of students and their families so they can access our Making Waves college attendance and college graduation resources – and have two-way conversations with an AI college advisor. 

Seeing students take active ownership of their futures — and families supporting them on that journey — is at the heart of our vision. This AI college advisor is a great complement to in-person support students may receive on their high school campus and a great addition to the one-to-one college coaching offered through Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, helping open even more doors to future graduates. 

This resource will be particularly useful to students who may not feel comfortable asking a college counselor, teacher, or peer questions that our virtual college advisor can automatically answer or can provide reminders of key deadlines. We see this technology as building capacity at high schools by reimagining the current college advising model and supplementing the shortage of dedicated college advisors, helping more college-hopefuls earn a degree. 

Information for families, too 

Jon has worked directly with students and families for years as head of college and career counseling at Making Waves Academy. He’s seen that families play an important role in college decision making. And this resource is a way for family members to also get direct information about the college admissions process. All it takes is signing up

Jon and our impact team, led by Aiyana Mourtos, our VP of impact, will be ensuring that advising content is tailored to the demographics we serve and aligns with the Wave-Maker student profile. This builds off the work of Dr. Kristina Wright, our director of learning and design, who has been leading a continued pilot program to offer workshops and resources as well as scholarships and coaching for select Pittsburg High School graduates. We’re now working to share our resources with more schools and community partners. 

Aiming to increase college graduation rates 

Thanks to our history supporting Bay Area students in attending and graduating from college — and our increased focus on technology — in the near future, we aim to be able to reach thousands more low-income, underrepresented students, exponentially improving college graduation rates and career opportunities. 

Applying to and attending college is also one of the most exciting times in life. Making Waves Foundation is here to help students explore who they are and what their dreams are by guiding them on a college and career path that matches their purpose in life. Every student deserves access to this journey. 

Patrick O’Donnell

Chief Executive Officer

With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating early 1,200 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 600 Wave-Maker alumni.

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