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Pittsburgh Start-Up Offers Virtual Gap Year As Coronavirus Limits Student Options

Seth Wenig
Graduating students practice socially distance by sitting far apart during a graduation ceremony at Millburn High School in Millburn, N.J., Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

Recent high school graduates are facing a myriad of challenges in light of the coronavirus pandemic.  Travel is restricted for those who had wanted to go abroad for a gap year. For some, lost income makes it impossible to afford college tuition. Others have safety concerns about living and studying on campus.

A new start-up, WorldlyXP, has grown out of the uncertainties caused by the global health crisis. Co-founder Dr. Jeff Ritter is a former professor of communications, media and technology at LaRoche University.

Ritter said the Worldly experience is a virtual gap year that includes live, online events and conferences on important topics with guest speakers and experts, Zoom sessions, self-paced modules and even individual coaching through an Artificial Intelligence chat bot.

“Career exposure is one of the most important things we want to provide, but also, self discovery, learning more about yourself,” Ritter said. “They’ll learn about a lot of different career possibilities they may not have heard about before.”

Ritter said students can learn about careers ranging from chemistry and computer programming to bee-keeping and wood working and may find out after much exploration, they won’t need a college degree after all.

“They might even say, I’m not even gonna go to a four-year college. I’ve decided an associate’s degree or a certificate or a boot camp is more appropriate for what I want to do and I don’t even have to get a big loan for that,” Ritter added.

The Wordly team consists of educators and entrepreneurs from around the world.

According to WorldlyXP co-founder Jeff Saporito, they have designed a web environment which isn’t structured like courses or classes.

“We will present a topic, like personal finance. Beneath that, we have curated content from all over the internet on that subject including videos, games, and tests,” Saporito said.

“People can get an assessment, work on a project, collaborate with others and get feedback on their work that can be used to create a portfolio.”

Saporito said the pandemic has accelerated their plan to offer young people a new kind of post-high school experience.

“We want to help people find out what they want to do and who they want to be. They can work safely, online, free of viruses and without worrying about social distancing while we bring the world to them,” Saporito noted.

Ritter said at less than $100 a month, WorldlyXP is more affordable than in-person or online college tuition. He said it also costs less than other virtual gap year programs including one called Boost offered by online educational giant, Kaplan.

Enrollment is open now with programs set to launch in September.