Nova Scotia

Former university dropout developing app to help keep students in school

Megan Cook dropped out of university in her early 20s but returned to finish her business management degree and help others in the process.

Study shows 31% of students entering Maritime universities drop out of school

Megan Cook, a fourth-year student at Mount Saint Vincent University, said her app will provide students an organizational system that will keep them on track and in school. (Submitted by Megan Cook)

A mature student who dropped out of university in her early 20s is using her own experience to develop an app that will help others stay in school.

"It's so important to stay in school, and the thing that drives me nuts is people aren't dropping out necessarily because they can't handle the workload," said Megan Cook, who is now a fourth-year business management student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

"They're dropping out because they're feeling stressed, they're feeling emotional when [they're] not organized. It's all interlinked."

That's how Cook was feeling during her third year at Mount Allison University. Her father had just died and she was feeling out of place.

"I went back for a third year, but I shouldn't have. I actually did complete some courses, but it's kind of all a fog," she said. "That's what pushed me to make a decision. I knew I couldn't focus on my education."

She chose to move to Alberta to work in the oilpatch, but quickly realized she needed — and wanted — to finish her education.

"When I was able to swallow my pride and go back to school as a mature student, that's when I really started to shine," she said. 

That's when she decided to use her own experience of dropping out to help others.

A 2018 study done by the Maritimes Provinces Higher Education Commission found that up to 31 per cent of students entering Maritime universities dropped out of school and did not graduate.

The study found the dropout rate was most pronounced between first year and second year, with 17 per cent of the students dropping out after just one school year.

Cook said dropping out is also common among students with learning disabilities like attention deficit disorder.

Studentgizor will help first-year students and those with learning disabilities stay organized while in university. (Submitted by Megan Cook)

That's why her app, Studentgizor, will target first-year students and those with learning disabilities, providing them with tools to navigate busy university schedules and deadlines.

"That's quite a chunk of people, and I think by providing them this digital communication and organizational system, it just allows them to focus on the actual academic aspect and not the organizational aspect," she said. "That's what's important and that's what's going to keep people in school."

Jeff McKinnon, an associate professor at MSVU, said he often witnesses students struggling to keep up in university.

"They're trying to juggle all of these different responsibilities, both academically and non, and just trying to keep that straight," McKinnon said.

" ... I think what Megan's proposing solves the problem — maybe not solves the problem — but certainly helps mitigate the problem."

'Big eye-opener for me'

The app, which will be a monthly subscription service, provides students with a visual template that houses study prompts, test dates and deadlines.

Cook said when she returned to university at 26, she missed a quiz. That drove home the importance of staying organized.

"That was a big eye-opener for me."

Cook hopes her app will make a difference for students who might be struggling.

"You go to school, you actually do your four years — that's such a huge accomplishment," she said. "So if I can in any way make that easier or improve or enhance that, it would just mean the world to me."

Cook is now in her last year at MSVU and she's expected to graduate with a bachelor of business administration later this year.

She was recently awarded the Frank H. Sobey Award for Excellence in Business Studies, valued at $30,000 — funding that will go toward her app's development.

Cook said the app is still in its early stages but is expected to launch this fall.

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