Meet the Finalists: Q&A with the Pinellas Education Foundation

This post is part of a special “Meet the Finalists” series, featuring Q&A with the five Reach Higher Career App Challenge finalists.

As we count down to Demo Day next Thursday, July 7th, we’re thrilled to kick off our Meet the Finalists blog post series with the Pinellas Education Foundation, the team behind Future Plans®. Future Plans® is a career discovery app that assesses student aptitudes and interests to map educational pathways with in-demand career choices. The app guides students through a decision matrix to evaluate career alternatives and offers career preparation tools such as resume building, job interview tips, and job-hunting videos.

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired you to work on this type of app?

The Pinellas Education Foundation is committed to enhancing educational experiences for the students in our community of Pinellas County, Florida. In fact, Junior Achievement’s programs Biz Town and Finance Park originated from the Pinellas Education Foundation’s Enterprise Village and Finance Park programs, for fifth and eighth graders, respectively. The Reach Higher Challenge presented a terrific opportunity for us to expand our newly developed Future Plans® career and college planning tool, aimed at high schoolers, to a wider audience beyond Florida. We share the Reach Higher Challenge’s goal to inspire students to take charge of their futures, and the app represents a perfect platform to reach this audience.

What have been your biggest challenges and successes in developing your app?

Our biggest challenge has been determining the specific functions within the mobile app, and how to streamline and partner those features with the online Future Plans® tool. Time is a challenge because all of our schools, students, and other current customers have already expressed high demand for Future Plans® in a mobile app – “they wanted it yesterday!” While our app is still in development, our biggest success has been the positive feedback we have received from Reach Higher mentors, who have shared their confidence in our product, affirming our decision-making to date. Our involvement with Reach Higher has encouraged us to scale up and think big. We started building a new website, hired a director, formed an LLC, invested in new demand software via partnership with CareerSource Florida, and signed a contract with WestEd.

Your team has now completed the Virtual Accelerator, which included expert mentorship and curated learning modules. What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through this process so far?

Participating in the Virtual Accelerator program has been an incredible learning opportunity for us. Our biggest insight has been the helpful feedback from mentors, including specific suggestions related to mobile technology (Sian Morson), use of data (Natalie Harris & Michael Koetting), and guidance on developing a sustainable business model. Feedback from guidance counselors Kim Reykdal and Katherine Pastor was invaluable and Alex Gloss provided key feedback on the importance of focusing on non-college bound audiences and making Future Plans® available to young adults and adult users. Mentor feedback helped us identify canned report options and enabled us to make counselor-friendly edits, increase job listings, and undertake a cultural bias validation.

What else do you hope to learn at Demo Day?

We hope to gain feedback from the Reach Higher panel of judges on how we can best hone Future Plans® to help guide students as they navigate their career and college planning during and after high school. We hope to learn that we successfully utilized all of the important guidance and feedback given from the mentors throughout this experience to make improvements, learn, grow, and market a comprehensive, college and career readiness planning tool. We are very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to July 7th.

Two new judges join the judging panel

We are thrilled to announce that two new esteemed judges have joined the Winner Selection Judging Panel for the Reach Higher Career App Challenge. Gale Halsey and Arrun Kapoor will join the panel of judges at Demo Day at the White House in July to evaluate the finalists’ solutions and recommend a grand prize winner. We are honored to have Gale and Arrun bring their extensive experience to the panel. Gale has worked at Ford Motor Company for over 20 years, and oversees learning and development organizations, global leadership develop programs, onboarding, and coaching strategies. Arrun is the managing Director for SJF Ventures’ New York City office and leads the fund’s education and employment tech investments. You can read more about each of our two new judges below.

The five finalists are currently participating in an intensive virtual accelerator phase to prepare for Demo Day, where they will present their refined career planning app concepts and demonstrate their final prototypes to the judges. They are working through a series of modules with leading thinkers from Roadtrip Nation, Civitas Learning, Code Interactive, and IBM Watson to improve their concepts, gain a deep understanding of student and counselor needs, develop scalable prototypes, and create sustainable business models.

We are very excited to hear from the finalists at Demo Day and would like to extend our sincerest thanks to the Winner Selection Judges for lending their time and expertise to the Challenge. Please join us in welcoming Gale and Arrun to the panel:


CLO and Director, Global Learning and Organization Development, Ford Motor Company

Gale is responsible for developing and implementing the vision, strategy and global organization structure for all OD and learning activities across Ford. In her role, she coordinates the activities of the ten functional learning and development organizations, global leadership development programs, onboarding, and coaching strategies. Gale is responsible for the business operations of the Ford Training and Development Center, the Organization Development Institute, L&OD IT platforms and university partnership programs.


Managing Director, SJF Ventures

Arrun is the Managing Director for SJF Ventures’ New York City office and leads the fund’s education and employment tech investments. He has been involved as a Board Director or Observer to Civitas Learning, Raise, Think Through Learning, FieldView Solutions, ServiceChannel, Truist, and Ayla Networks. He heads the NYC EdLinks program and is a member of the Investment Board of the Social Venture Fund for The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School. Arrun was most recently with Bain & Company in London and Delhi.

Note that Finalist Selection Judges Cheryl Carrier and Donna Harris have been recused from judging the grand prize winner selection due to conflicts of interest.

Meet the Finalists

Today, the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative and the U.S. Department of Education announced five finalists in the Reach Higher Career App Challenge. The Challenge launched last October, calling for new mobile technologies to help students navigate education and career pathways, including career and technical education (CTE).

Each finalist will receive $25,000 and proceed to the Virtual Accelerator phase of the competition to refine their concepts with support from subject matter experts in design, business modeling, civic tech, and career counseling.

“We are incredibly impressed with the caliber and creativity of solutions submitted to the challenge,” said Johan Uvin, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. “These five solutions hold tremendous promise for engaging our students in planning their pathway to future success.”

Congratulations to the finalists:

Future Plans®, Pinellas Education Foundation

A career discovery app that assesses student aptitudes and interests to map educational pathways with in-demand career choices. Future Plans® guides students through a decision matrix to evaluate career alternatives and offers career preparation tools such as resume building, job interview tips, and job-hunting videos.

Hats & Ladders, ThinkZone Games

A game-based app that supports middle and high school 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.

INFORM® Journeys,, Inc

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. Journeys provides students the ability to create personalized roadmaps to explore career opportunities and access curated resources, in addition to offering career interest surveys, self-assessments, and progress reporting.


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. MARi is an intelligently connected network that continuously tracks student progress to create a visual gap analysis and alert students of local opportunities.

Overgrad, Overgrad, Inc.

A web platform that leverages community resources, technology, and data to support long-term student outcomes. Overgrad combines academic performance information with results from a career interest survey based on O*NET data to help students select pathways and track their progress toward aspired outcomes.

The finalists were recommended by a panel of judges with expertise in career counseling, workforce development, CTE, educational technology, and business scaling. Judges were recused from scoring and discussing any submissions with which they had a conflict of interest.

We look forward to seeing how the finalists evolve their solutions as they prepare for Demo Day, and compete for the remaining $100,000 and additional sponsor prizes. Stay tuned for the winner announcement this summer.

Finalist Announcement Update

Thank you to everyone who entered the Reach Higher Career App Challenge. We notified all teams leads today that we are still confirming details for the finalist announcement.

We recognize and appreciate that everyone who entered put a great deal of thought and time into their submissions, and we sincerely apologize for the ongoing delay. The judging phase is taking significantly longer than anticipated, and we are working hard to make the announcement as soon as possible in May.

We will continue to communicate any Challenge updates to all team leads as they become available. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to