First Lady, Education Department Announce Winner in the Reach Higher Career App Challenge

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First Lady, Education Department Announce Winner in the Reach Higher Career App Challenge

August 24, 2016

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative and the U.S. Department of Education today announced ThinkZone Games as the grand prize winner in the Reach Higher Career App Challenge (Challenge), a prize competition to promote the development of mobile app solutions that will help students navigate education and career pathways, including career and technical education (CTE).

“There are so many excellent programs that teach cutting edge skills, including career and technical education programs, but sometimes it’s hard for students to navigate all those opportunities and find the right fit. So we called on all of you for help, and you truly answered the call,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “People from across the country submitted ideas for new apps to help students plan their futures.”

The Challenge seeks to bring apps to middle and high school students that will help them learn about education and career options, while increasing the capacity of career counselors to assist students in planning for their futures. ThinkZone Games’ winning app Hats & Ladders supports career exploration with swipe-to-choose self-assessments, connected activities, and mini-challenges. Hats & Ladders provides repeat exposure to a broad spectrum of careers and enables students to draw connections between their personal attributes and multiple pathways to career success.

“We are thrilled this Challenge has spurred the creation of innovative technologies to support our students and career counselors,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “Hats & Ladders and the other finalists’ apps will be key resources for connecting students with programs that will prepare them for the high-demand jobs of the future.”

With a constantly evolving career landscape, students often need support in planning for careers and college. While the current career guidance and counseling infrastructure plays a critical role in assisting students, one in five high schools nationwide lack a school counselor.

In 2014, the national average student-to-school-counselor ratio for K-12 counselors was 491:1. In many schools nationwide, students receive only minutes of in-person time with their counselor annually, as they prepare to make postsecondary education and career decisions.

ThinkZone Games was recommended by a panel of judges with expertise in career counseling, workforce development, CTE, educational technology, and business scaling following the Reach Higher Career App Challenge Demo Day on July 7, 2016, at the White House.

“Our company’s ultimate mission is to build game-driven teaching and learning tools capable of transforming the lives of students by transitioning learning into motivating, authentic experiences. Hats & Ladders is such a tool—a game-based, swipe-to-choose app capable of removing barriers to career advancement that many young people have,” said Leah Potter, Director for Instructional Design for ThinkZone Games.

ThinkZone Games will receive $100,000 and additional sponsor prizes for its career exploration mobile app Hats & Ladders.

The four other Challenge finalists that presented their concepts and demonstrated their app prototypes at Demo Day are:

  • Future Plans® by Pinellas Education Foundation — a career discovery app that assesses student aptitudes and interests to map educational pathways with in-demand career choices.
  • INFORM® Journeys by, Inc — an interactive learning map app created to help students explore life's possibilities as they navigate through K-12, CTE, college/university, military service, and/or vocational training.
  • MARi by MARi LLC — a school and career coach app that brings together assessments, capability mapping, and achievement validation, along with personalized career and education opportunities into a comprehensive map of the labor market.
  • Overgrad by Overgrad, Inc. — a web platform that leverages community resources, technology, and data to support long-term student outcomes.

The finalists were announced on May 11, 2016. Each received $25,000 and advanced to the Virtual Accelerator phase of the competition to demonstrate their solutions at Demo Day. During the Virtual Accelerator, they worked through a series of modules with leading thinkers in app design and education innovation to improve their concepts, gain a deep understanding of student and counselor needs, develop scalable prototypes, and create sustainable business models.

The Reach Higher Career App Challenge is part of a series of prize competitions conducted by ED which seek to spur the development of new technology, products, and resources that will prepare students for the high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations of tomorrow. The series is funded by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. Learn more at: