Himanshi Sharma on bridging the gap between conventional academic systems and real-world opportunities

Himanshi Sharma, a current student at JHU’s School of Education and specialising in International Teaching and Global Leadership, understands that when you notice inequity in your community, it is an opportunity to spark connection and encourage change.  Coming from India to study in the U.S., Sharma recognized the gap between conventional academic systems and real-world opportunities and worked to co-founded Edansh, a platform that helps students around the world make informed decisions about their future.

Can you describe the problem you are tackling?

Students these days are spending more and more time on social media platform such as Instagram, but when it comes to Linkedin they are more or less in the dark about it. For them, the process of building connections on Linkedin or looking into networking or career related information seems quite daunting.

In India, you are expected to make a study pathway at a really young age, when you have little awareness of the many job alternatives available. So often they end up picking their career path based on top five hot career options such as doctor, engineering, lawyer, etc. They don’t explore much of other options such as media design as they really don’t know what they can do after studying such fields.

Tell us more about your start-up.

We came up with Edansh, an EdTech platform that provides career and mentorship resources to high school and college students. It is a one-stop platform that allows students to learn about various career options in various industries. Once you know about various career options, you will have the opportunity to connect with someone who is available in that field to talk to you

As I spoke with my professors here at Hopkins, they expressed an interest in bringing it to the Baltimore community as well. I realized that this isn’t simply a problem in India.

One of the most common reasons high school students drop out is because they don’t like studying a particular subject or have no idea what to do afterward. So, if we could offer these features to them with a few changes, this could really benefit Baltimore as a community.

So where is it at right now?

We have a minimum viable product ready and are in the process of onboarding mentees. For this we are reaching out and collaborating with the schools. We currently have 40 plus mentors on our platform, and more than 250 live career options. We are trying to finally enter the market but it’s an ongoing process, so we are still trying to refine the platform as we go.

As you’re planning to introduce it to the Baltimore community, do you notice any cultural parallels that you see within these two communities?

What I found in Baltimore is that people are not that affluent, which is very similar with India community. They have a very little spending capacity, which creates a barrier to access similar existing expensive resources. You also can’t expect in schools to tell you how it is to be like an engineer, for example.

Career counsellors might be able to provide you with statistics that are readily available online, but what they can’t really offer is the experience and the emotions behind that particular career option.

Most students are not comfortable using LinkedIn or reaching out to strangers. In India, there is a hierarchical gap that causes young individuals to feel obligated to act in a certain manner while speaking with someone older. Asking personal questions is an awkward process for them. Meanwhile, I believe people are more willing to initiate these conversations in Western countries.

That’s an interesting point because I would imagine that in most Asian countries, especially South Asian cultures, when students choose a career path, they are heavily influenced by their immediate circles of family or friends, whereas people in the Western world have a bit more freedom to choose. It seems that they have the same mentality across cultures, right?

Exactly! Again, in the Indian school system, you are expected to make a decision at a young age, such as grade 9, when you have little knowledge about professional options. They are more likely to select a specific occupation if they see a family member doing so and “having a good life.”

Parents are also attempting to influence their children’s choices by showing examples of people they believe to be successful. The culture is extremely reward-driven, and this is a trend that I observe in across my conversations with friends from other Asian countries. For example, many Korean students wind up changing occupations halfway through their undergraduate studies since they didn’t put much consideration into what they wanted to pursue initially.

As you said before, high school students still have a young mindset, and sometimes it’s hard to get through to them. I completely understand how it might be difficult to get them to see the importance of what you are doing. How do you navigate these situations?

First, with our platform, we’re trying to make it as user friendly as possible while without overloading it with information. We are not attempting to reinvent the wheel since everything is freely accessible on Google. But what we’re attempting to do is build an ecosystem that will make knowledge more accessible or show it in a more user-friendly way. What we want to do is to present the optimal amount of information in the most effective way possible.

Secondly, we use storytelling and creative counselling with our mentorship platform. Our creative counselling sessions are planned but not structured; they are very much guided by the students, which allows them to take in information gradually. We also encourage mentors to come up with creative ways to share their stories that would have the most positive psychological impact on the students.

That’s amazing! Who would they have access to as mentors?

We have mentors from both conventional and non-conventional fields and are at different stages in their career. For example, in general, I noticed that high school students might feel intimidated when meeting someone with really high up positions like a CEO or a VP of a large company. They often want to connect with a senior at a university they want to attend, someone who they can relate to regarding their immediate goals. So we have mentors who are currently at a university or our recent graduates. On the other hand, to cater to our college students, we have mentors who
are professionals working in different industries and at different levels.

I see. Since these also include individuals who are relatively new in their career path or to mentorship, how do you ensure that they are equipped to mentor the students or using appropriate language?

Yes, we do have the proper guideline when onboarding new members. We also want to do something similar to an onboarding session where we also record their intercession and learn about their interest and why they are there.

One last question, what sparked you to do this in the first place?

Growing up, I have seen family members like my cousins heavily influenced by their parents on their career choices so that they can have “a good life”. Back home, I hardly see young people sit down and actually think about what they want to do in the future. To be fair, this might be one of the hardest conversations one could have with themselves.

People also don’t have enough social and financial capacity to gain more freedom of choice. They often go for careers that are deemed financially lucrative. This is a massive gap so we came up with Edansh to hopefully help more young adults out there gain more information and make better career choices.

Are you curious about how to make well-rounded decisions about your career moving forward? Check out this website.

By Belle To
Belle To