Young entrepreneurs connect inspirational speakers to students in need

Monica Gray and Annie Medaglia, co-founders of DreamWakers, are the latest to be named Toyota Mothers of Invention

Two entrepreneurs who are using technology to connect world leaders and motivational speakers to students in need are the winners of this year’s Toyota Mothers of Invention award.

Monica Gray and Annie Medaglia co-founded DreamWakers, which uses Skype and Google Hangouts to connect motivational speakers from places like Apple and the White House with students across the country to try and bridge the connection between working professionals and students in need.

“We want to bridge that gap between career fair and career found,” Gray told CBS News’ Julianna Goldman at the Women in the World Salon in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

“We’re empowering people to be able to give back and we now have a waitlist of speakers,” Medaglia said.

Monica Gray and Annie Medaglia, Co-Founders of DreamWakers (Toyota)

Monica Gray and Annie Medaglia, Co-Founders of DreamWakers (Toyota)

The pair has always been passionate about working with at-risk students to improve their experiences in public schools. As undergrads at the University of Virginia, they both led programs to address education inequality, but found that after graduation, those opportunities dwindled.

Medaglia, who now works as deputy director of the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, and Gray, who went to work in digital marketing after graduation, found that they couldn’t fit in volunteer opportunities with their busy work schedules once they got full-time jobs. Together, the young women dreamed up a solution that would allow full-time professionals to work with students using Skype and other technological solutions. “We realized that the solution was in our hands — it was our phones. We got hooked on this idea,” Gray said.

The team told an anecdote to the assembled audience about deputy senior adviser to President Obama David Simas, who spoke online to students in New Jersey, to the excitement of the students and the pleasure of the top politico. “He (Simas) said it was one of the best things he’s done at the White House. He loves the program because it helps kids imagine the unimaginable,” Gray said.

“A lot of time the chats don’t just end after 40 minutes and in that case David (Simas) invited all the students to visit the White house so kids from New Jersey (were) getting on a bus to Washington!”

There is still a list of “dream speakers” the pair would like to attract, including former Bush administration senior official Condoleezza Rice, the Obamas, Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and ballet dancer Misty Copeland.

“We always need women — we are always on the lookout for great women to give talks,” they said.

The program first launched in 2014 at a Boys and Girls Club in Charlottesville, Virginia, near the women’s alma mater, and later expanded into public schools in nearby Staunton.

DreamWaker video sessions last 30 to 45 minutes and are designed to “shed light on the real-world applicability of course lessons while inspiring America’s public school students to plan for future life and career opportunities,” according to the company.

Medaglia and Gray said they were excited to use the Mothers of Invention $50,000 grant money to expand DreamWakers’ ability to help students across the country.

DreamWakers has now connected speakers with students in more than 50 communities, a number the women hope to see triple in 2016.

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