The message arrived to Kathy Wang on a notecard. She was at a sorority event as an undergraduate student, and beforehand, her fellow sisters had been encouraged to write positive messages to one another. Senders could identify themselves or not. Wang's card arrived anonymously.
“Thank you for always finding a reason to smile.”
Those nine words made her day and, more than that, underscored the profound power a simple compliment can have.
“Two years later, I actually still have that card on my bedroom wall as a reminder of the amazing people I have in my life,” she said.
It was from this experience that Wang and friend Anita Xu – both recent graduates of Cornell Information Science’s Master of Professional Studies [MPS] program – would conceptualize an idea to inject more positivity into the oftentimes caustic arena of social media. Fueled by a conversation over project work one night in Rhodes Hall, the duo thought up Uplift, a friend-sourced gratitude platform where women could empower one another on social media.
“Originally intended for connection, social media has instead left many girls feeling lonelier,” Xu said, citing studies that suggest the link between social media use and depression is stronger for women than men. “Higher levels of gratitude have been found to lower anxiety and depression, and that’s where Uplift comes in.”
A kind of modernized take on Wang’s experience with the anonymous notecard, Uplift is an app that allows women to send each other messages of gratitude – anonymously or otherwise – as well as offer admiration via polls, such as “Which one of your friends is the best listener?”
Uplift is now a full-fledged startup, with Xu handling business development and Wang handling the design strategy. They intend to launch Uplift in app stores soon.
To refine their product, the pair attended MIT’s Grand Hack, a healthcare hackathon held in early May. They presented Uplift before mentors and judges and met with innovators who provided key insight into specifics like mobile interfaces, ways to improve app-use retention and how to measure app success.
“The MIT Grand Hack allowed us to receive a lot of good feedback from mentors with diverse backgrounds, ranging from mental health to product strategy,” Wang said. “We were able to leverage this to refine our solution. As individuals, we were able to sharpen our storytelling and presentation skills, both of which are incredibly important in entrepreneurship.”
Both women graduated from Cornell this May and intend to lead Uplift’s growth, even while holding down newly secured jobs. Wang will join IBM in Austin, Texas, as a user experience designer, while Xu joins Deloitte Consulting’s New York City office as a business analyst in the company’s technology group.
"The MPS program has allowed me to really engage with the Cornell community, and I’ve learned that design and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand in so many ways," Wang said. "Not only has the MPS program given me a chance to work at IBM, it’s also allowed me to start my own journey of entrepreneurship. I’m very excited to see what the future holds."
Added Xu: "The interdisciplinary nature of the MPS program has enabled me to develop my technical, design and business skillset. It has also challenged me to think more critically about the moral, ethical and social implications facing the development of next generation technologies and how to develop solutions that are conscious of potential harmful effects."
Louis DiPietro is the communications coordinator for Information Science.