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Freshman Spotlight

Fresh Encounters: Ariana Isabel Sokolov

Ariana Sokolov is the creator of trillproject.com, an anonymous social network for mental health support that uses machine learning to direct users in crisis to relevant mental health resources. Since launch, the app has been downloaded over 50,000 times in 42 countries, tweeted about by Tim Cook, and named Apple’s App of the Day. Here, Ari shares her passion for people, community and her nonlinear path to happiness.

What does being at the Academy mean to you?

The Academy is a home for untraditional leaders and creators who play, fail, and create together to solve important problems often left ignored.

What is something about the way the world works that bothers you? How would you disrupt it?

Something that does not make sense is the way that humans use space. The place where you go to work or school is not used while you sleep, and the place where you sleep is not used while you are at work or school. Creating expandable, lockable furniture and storage that transitions workspaces into affordable housing for urban workers would help mitigate this problem. I know this is an audacious and seemingly naive idea but that is also why it is a potentially remarkable one as well.

What are three goals you have for this year?
1. To explore more
2. To create more things with different people
3. To remember more moments and make sure my days don't blend into a blur

Who is the most impressive famous person alive today? Why?

I am a huge fan of John Green, a famous author of young-adult novels like The Fault in Our Stars. I am most impressed by the way he gets the online community to come together and make the world a better place. For example, he created a YouTube community-driven charitable event called Project for Awesome that raised over $1.5M and an educational YouTube series called Crash Course with over 1,000 lessons. The internet is a powerful tool that blurs the lines between national borders and can be used to bring unlikely communities together in beautiful ways which is something John Green has done amazingly. 

Let's say you were miraculously provided $1,000,000 in seed funding, what would you create?

I'd create an investment fund that invests in people instead of companies. I know most investors look to invest in people, rather than the company. However, getting individuals to the point at which they can realistically achieve something great requires financial capital. There is so much untapped potential that sits locked in students who struggle to afford college or individuals who can’t pursue their own ideas due to financial obligations. I'd create a return once that individual hits a high-income level or sells their company.

If you could ask advice from any historical figure, who would it be and what would you ask them?

I'd ask Leonardo Di Vinci advice on how to imagine the future.

Describe one thing most people don't know about you?

People don't realize that I'm a pretty spiritual person. I believe that the positive and negative energy you put out into the world is ultimately the same energy you receive. I am privileged to live in a peaceful environment, have access to a great education, and be accepted by those around me. The universe putting me in this place is a reminder that I should use these privileges to create more positive energy in the world. 

What is one thing your parents taught you that you'd like to share?

My parents taught me that there isn't a linear path to success and to chase after whatever opportunities you identify that make you happy. I was really lucky to have their support as I followed my passions rather than conform to what others were doing around me. I wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I have without them.

What will your future self accomplish?

Ultimately, I want to create something that is remembered for longer than I am. Whether it's physical, virtual, or conceptual, I want to have a lasting positive impact and create a more equitable world. While I’m not sure what that thing is quite yet, I know that now is my time to ask questions and not necessarily have all the answers. 


What are the essential things you always keep in your backpack? 

Mini scissors, tape, AirPods, computer; I don't have a very interesting bag! 

Favorite app or website?

awwwards.com is a website that gives awards to really well-designed and engineered websites.

If you could be best friends with one fictional character who would it be?

Tony Stark / Iron Man. I just really want to get a chance to try out the suit and all of the tech in his home.

Where is your favorite place to hang out on campus?

I love getting coffee, catching up with friends, or studying in the courtyard outside of the cafe at the School of Cinematic Arts.

Finally, is there a cool project you are working on?

A little over a year ago, I created an anonymous social network for mental health support that uses machine learning to direct users in crisis to relevant mental health resources (trillproject.com / @thetrillproject). We've been downloaded over 50,000 times in 42 countries, tweeted about by Tim Cook, named Apple's App of the Day, and featured by TechCrunch, Refinery29, and Fox News. Also, I was invited to travel to Berlin in November to participate in a Worlds Forum about AI and social change that is being organized by Harvard, MIT, and Google.

Thank you, Ariana!