With COVID-19 effectively upending the residential college experience, many students have revealed the upheaval they face as campuses remain closed. This, among other things,, reveals the urgency of her work, says BestFit CEO and co-founder Asha Owens.
“Millions of college students are already struggling to find stable access to food, housing, transportation, and healthcare, and then in a moment’s notice, campuses close and all of these services that they relied on throughout the year no longer exist,” says Owens.
BestFit’s edtech web platform helps students form their own safety nets by connecting them to the collegiate, community, philanthropic, and corporate resources they need to concentrate on their studies and graduate.
“A lot of that technology is just about aggregating all of these resources available to students to reduce that mental burden of finding help when they need it most.”
To that end, BestFit has launched a resource platform where college students can easily find and apply for free and affordable assistance in their own communities. The online portal provides comprehensive and up-to-date information for students displaced by these campus closures.
Students can use the platform to find verified local and national resources for food, healthcare, transportation, financial assistance, and other basic needs. They can also find out their eligibility, determine next steps, submit their own resources, and sign up for weekly updates.
Owens created BestFit from her own collegiate experience, after finding out — the hard way — that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.
Owens was accepted to an Ivy League school, but despite having elders who had navigated the college experience before her, the Columbus (Georgia) native struggled with certain aspects of campus life.
“I ended up going to Brown University, and I made my decision without ever stepping foot on campus,” Owens tells Hype. “Within, like two months, I called my dad and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ The shift culturally, geographically, and academically was huge for me. And I really struggled a lot.”
An advisory meeting during freshman orientation further revealed gaps between Owens and her fellow students she could neither anticipate nor ameliorate.
“We went around the table to talk about what we did over the summer,” she says. “One student talks about how he had an internship at some bank or financial institution. Another one talks about how he was an intern in this neuroscience research lab. And then we get to me and I’m like, I did this summer reading, because that’s what our welcome letters said to do. How was I supposed to know to be looking for these things?”
“That just really marked the beginning of similar occurrences happening in group settings and classes. And [me] feeling like, ‘Okay, I need to catch up, but I don’t know how.’”
Owens met native Singaporean Rebecca Kwee (another Ivy Leaguer who’d arrived on campus sight unseen) at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College. They teamed up to figure out a way to provide students with resources they didn’t have as undergrads.
“For us, as women of color pursuing STEM degrees, there were a lot of challenges we faced,” says Owens. “And when we looked at the higher-ed ecosystem, [we found that] 75 percent of low-income minority students who enroll in college won’t graduate. That’s what we’re determined to change.”
A current member of Techstars’ Social Impact Accelerator, BestFit will also partner with colleges, nonprofits, and corporations wishing to connect students to necessary resources. Owens hopes her work, will lead to more support for a community she believes is more vulnerable than many people realize.
“We can’t have all our eggs in one basket, and rely solely on colleges to provide all of these systems around housing, food and healthcare, and that’s sort of what’s happened in the U.S.,” Owens says.
“To prevent situations like this from happening again, we need a distributive approach of combining college, community, federal, and then also corporate programs and resources, to ensure students have that support system they need.”
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