A startup reinvents the higher education admissions process using AI
By building on Google Cloud’s integrated AI solutions iSchoolConnect streamlines universities’ interactions with students.
Ashish Fernando already had a Master’s degree in Biotechnology in India when he decided to apply to an MBA program in the United States. He then spent three years researching programs and figuring out what U.S. admissions offices were looking for in prospective students, ultimately landing a full scholarship at Bentley University in Massachusetts in 2013. But his experience made him realize that “the best schools and the best students struggled to find each other.” During his MBA studies, he realized there was an opportunity to make higher education operations more efficient. His solution, iSchoolConnect, began as a dorm room project with the goal “to transform the way schools not only scout for prospective students but also engage with alumni once they have graduated from the school. AI and machine learning are technologies of the future that will drive this change in a cost-effective, reproducible, and scalable manner,” Fernando states. He received seed funding for the startup in January 2018, and launched six months later.
"Starting with Dialogflow for building our virtual agent was seamless. The UI is easy to understand compared to any other infrastructure that’s out there."
Ashish Tulsankar, Head of Artificial Intelligence, iSchoolConnect
Revolutionizing the admissions process
For the initial product launch it made sense to start with admissions, which is the first point of contact, and offer solutions to both students and schools. For international students, iSchoolConnect created a website that uses AI tools to match them with the best U.S. academic programs for their needs. The site has already registered two thousand users and generated 120,000 interactions with their chatbot. For schools, his development team created a virtual agent that automatically imports the information on a school’s website to answer student questions 24/7 on all devices—or refer them to a human. For staff, this conserves valuable time and energy. “They get to focus on things that matter the most,” Fernando points out. “The admissions offices we work with say they don’t have to answer the same questions every day. They’re able to spend their time analyzing data instead of answering questions.”
Drawing on Google Cloud tools for end-to-end solutions
All of iSchoolConnect’s products leverage the power of Google Cloud tools for processing video, audio, and natural language. According to Ashish Tulsankar, Head of Artificial Intelligence at iSchoolConnect, the key to choosing Google was “ease of use and the technology stack”: he needed versatile tools that were designed to work together. He notes, “starting with Dialogflow for building our virtual agent was seamless. The UI is easy to understand compared to any other infrastructure that’s out there.” The company has also launched a new Video Interview Platform that allows students to practice high-stakes interviews by videotaping themselves responding to computer-generated prompts. With immediate feedback on their facial expressions, behavioral characteristics, and emotional tone, the students can then adjust and improve their results. The tool uses Google’s Angular JS as its interface, converts the audiovisual input via App Engine, processes it in Pub/Sub, analyzes it with TensorFlow’s machine-learning tools, stores it in Google Cloud Storage, and then runs it through Cloud ML Engine and Google Speech to Text to display real-time results. Tulsankar comments that “Google Cloud Storage provides inbuilt video streaming capabilities which was very useful for performing interview analysis on pre-recorded videos. These files are in turn used by our AI models and Google APIs for processing information.”
Fernando sees these products as only the first step in transforming academic operations through AI. “What is missing for schools is an end-to-end partner for technology,” he argues, “but Google Cloud is a platform that can scale to provide that.” In the future, he wants iSchoolConnect to become a one-stop digital platform for all the services connecting students and universities: “in a year we’d love to see that students are using our product to find and apply to institutions with one-click and institutions are using our technology to engage with students. It’s two-way traffic that we want build over time. But our final goal with all of this is driving student success.”
"What is missing for schools is an end-to-end solution for technology but Google Cloud is a platform that can scale to provide that."
Ashish Fernando, Founder, iSchoolConnect
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