Earlier in October, Cengage Learning partnered with LearnLaunch to host a higher education “pitch competition” in our Boston offices. The competition showcased many innovative edtech startups in Boston.

We spoke with one of the winners, Jackson Boyar of Shearwater International, to learn a bit more about his perspective on the current state of education and technology.

In your opinion, what’s the most pressing challenge or problem in education today? Why does this issue have personal relevance to you?

Frankly, I think equal access to education is the most pressing challenge we face; however, the issue I am working to solve—and the one that has personal relevance—is improving intercultural relationships on high school and college campuses.

School campuses are increasingly diverse, but can lack integration across different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. While in high school and college, many of my friends were international students who struggled to acclimate to American culture. They did not feel connected to their American peers, and this caused a great deal of frustration and cultural misunderstanding.

American campuses are a microcosm of something happening on a global scale: the world getting smaller. It’s a wonderful thing that attending college is an opportunity to interact with peers of such diverse backgrounds, but as access to education expands, it is increasingly important that institutions invest in teaching a global mindset. In my experience, conflict stems from a lack of common understanding. Diversifying campuses represent an opportunity to graduate global scholars who bridge nations and socioeconomic diversity.

How can technology in general—and your solution in particular—help students and/or instructors to overcome this challenge?

Orientation is an institution’s first opportunity to stimulate integration, but the current model is limited by its timing and method of delivery. International orientation, in particular, is a great example of this. International students arrive jet-lagged on campus and get inundated with information around campus logistics and how to sign up for classes. Unfortunately, this model fails to incorporate a sufficient introduction to American culture, academic expectations, or soft skills, all of which may not have been covered at a student’s previous school.

Technology represents an opportunity to begin learning before a student arrives on campus, and to receive ongoing personalized support until they graduate. Schools can connect with students before they arrive and begin teaching the context and skills so essential to success on campus. They can even leverage powerful networks of current students and alumni to support their cause.

Perhaps most exciting is the idea of leveraging technology to provide truly student-centered learning. In the traditional international orientation model, all students receive the same preparation; however, every student is unique in their cultural context and interests, and this is where personalized learning can be truly effective. Technology can deliver on this promise, at scale.

Through the process of developing this solution, what have you learned about student success? What tips would you give to students or others who wish to start on this same journey?

I founded an education company because of my own experiences studying abroad and navigating foreign cultures. There were times in my life when I was far from a successful student, but study abroad proved to be the catalyst I needed to develop confidence and strong learning habits. I learned that stepping out of my comfort zone was not only an exciting experience, but one in which my own learning was significantly accelerated. With the right support, every student can have this experience.

I would encourage students to say “yes” more than “no” to learning opportunities and to challenge themselves to expand their boundaries of comfort—start a conversation in the lunch room, reach out to an alumnus on LinkedIn, or attend a social event outside of your normal circles. It is these experiences that broaden horizons and accelerate learning and personal development.

How do you use edtech to support student success? Share your comments on the article below.