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Undergraduate Academic Affairs
University of Washington

Realizing that change takes more than sweat

Oct 12, 2010

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After graduating high school in Mukilteo, Wash., Paul Javid, ’06, volunteered in South America for two years. Part of his volunteer work was with a community radio station in Chile that was a lifeline for many rural communities. Witnessing the impact even radio technology can have on people’s lives, Paul determined that his college major should be in an area with practical application—he believed technology could be used to help people and focused on a computer science degree when he came to the University of Washington.

Early on in his undergraduate studies, Paul “realized the value of being at a research university. You can find anyone doing anything. Even though my interest was somewhat nonstandard, I was able to find someone to help me dig into my interest.”

As an undergraduate, Paul worked with renowned computer science Professor Ed Lazowska and graduate student Tapan Parikh, on a system that enabled rural women involved in microfinance projects to keep records and complete transactions over mobile phones. Paul helped build the mobile phone application to facilitate this process and earned a Mary Gates Research Scholarship for his work in the project.

Paul then applied that same technology to help businesses in India keep track of their sales force and manage a rural supply chain. He spent seven weeks in India with this project and later published the results and presented a paper about it at a research conference at the University of California Berkeley School of Information.

After graduation, Paul was awarded the Samuel Huntington Award for Public Service to continue his commitment to using technology to meet the needs of people living in developing communities through Digital Study Hall, a program in India that improves education for children in slum and rural schools through teacher training. A stipend of $10,000, the Huntington award is given to only one or two graduating college seniors in the country, enabling them to pursue one year of public service anywhere in the world.

The Huntington Award allowed Paul to focus on Digital Study Hall. The organization delivers teacher training content to rural schools via systems similar to Netflix and YouTube. Classes taught by exceptional grassroots teachers are recorded and distributed to the schools where teachers watch them with a facilitator and practice the teaching methods in the lesson.

Paul spent two years in India, first in Bangalore and then he and the founder of Digital Study Hall were hired by Microsoft to re-establish a pilot project of it in Calcutta. “Microsoft was interested in understanding the role of technology in rural communities,” says Paul, “and had a hunch that video could be a valuable means of communicating with such audiences.” Paul worked with Microsoft and Digital Study Hall to help get quantifiable results of the work’s effectiveness.

They conducted a small study that showed strong preliminary results that teachers’ learning improved over time as a result of Digital Study Hall. The pedagogical methods the teachers learned changed the classroom from “boring and static to interesting and dynamic.” And though their sample size wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant, student scores improved by 300%.

Paul was responsible for the Calcutta work, finding an office, hiring and training employees. “You really felt like you were working on a start-up.” When Paul needed more video content of teachers in classrooms he started a school for the kids in the neighboring slum.

The project is ongoing and the school Paul started still exists in the form of an afternoon tutoring program that serves about 100 kids in the area. His experiences in India taught Paul that to make a scalable difference, “sweat isn’t enough. You need to be organized and strategic.” This notion is reinforced for him as he finishes a dual master’s degree in business and public health at the University of California at Berkeley. “One of the reasons I’m focused now on entrepreneurship is to acquire contacts and resources so that, should I go back to a developing country one day to start something, I would be able to build something from the ground up.”

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