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College students find their 'path'

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 9:50 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ashley Mayo, 21, of North Oakland takes a break from work at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in Oakland on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Mayo, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 3 1/2 years, was one of the students who used a new app that Pitt offered. The pilot program helps students navigate college to graduate in four years and chart a career path.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ashley Mayo, 21, of North Oakland, poses for a portrait outside of her workplace at the at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in Oakland on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Mayo, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 3 1/2 years, was one of the students who used a new app that Pitt ran a pilot program on that helps students navigate college to graduate in 4 years and chart a career path.

Ashley Mayo was a woman on a mission when she enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh four years ago.

Today, the Washington native says she is nearing “mission accomplished,” thanks in part to MyPath101, a new app designed to help students choose a major in line with their goals and talents, select the right classes, graduate in four years, establish an online identity, and begin a career.

Mayo, 21, who participated in a pilot program of the app at Pitt as a junior, called MyPath101 “awesome.”

“It worked well for me,” said Mayo, a December graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology. “I was a lot more secure in what I wanted to do with myself after using it. I've met so many of my friends and people I've known who were so unsure of themselves trying to figure out ‘Who am I? Where am I going to go?' People say ‘I wish I'd had these conversations with myself early on.' ”

She completed her studies in 3½ years and is weighing which graduate school she'll attend to study public health.

The app provides aids to help students establish their strengths, choose an appropriate college major and chart their way through that major. It provides a step-by-step guide to cleaning up social media profiles and building a strong online identity, and gives assistance in writing resumes, cover letters and interviewing for jobs and internships.

App creator Rachel Gogos came to Pittsburgh several years ago from New York with a background in higher education, communications and marketing, and the goal of putting them together to help students gain a competitive edge through informed choices.

For high school students preparing for college, such decisions can have significant financial ramifications, Gogos said, noting that a change of major can require extra semesters of study and thousands of dollars in tuition and costs.

“Too many students don't know who they are or what they want to do, so they end up choosing majors late, switching majors or transferring schools. A lot of this is to empower students by giving them the self-knowledge and practical tools to determine their futures. It's like a virtual academic adviser, tech guru, and career counselor all rolled into one — and available 24/7,” Gogos said.

Its launch, in an era when statistics suggest only about one-third of all college students graduate in four years, is timely.

Cheryl S. Finlay, director of Pitt's office of career development and placement assistance, said Pitt — where 64 percent of students graduate in four years — agreed to participate in the pilot program because the app aligned so closely with the services her office offers.

“And we were curious to see how students would fare using an online, self-paced format,” Finlay said.

Finlay said feedback from students was largely positive. While Pitt continues to offer one-on-one services through her office, Finlay said test results suggest MyPath101 could prove to be a useful tool for students to make better informed school and career decisions.

Students interested in the app can download a free copy at MyPath101.com. Individual student memberships are available at $77 a quarter or $247 a year.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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