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Oxford graduate launches digital mentoring for students from disadvantaged backgrounds

22-year old Oxford graduate Joe Seddon has launched Zero Gravity, a digital mentoring startup connecting state school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds with undergraduate mentors from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. 

Powered by an online app, the mentoring scheme allows Year 12 students to engage in one-to-one video mentoring sessions for university applications, free of charge. Zero Gravity has signed up over 1,000 verified undergraduate mentors in the first 24 hours of launching and will be rolled out to thousands of current Year 12 students across the UK in the coming weeks.

Seddon, who graduated from Mansfield College with a degree in PPE in 2018, previously founded the award-winning social mobility organisation Access Oxbridge. Zero Gravity has been built off the back of the proven digital methodology of this previous venture, which was recognised with a social impact award from the Prime Minister last year. 

Speaking to Cherwell, Seddon said: “The way that Zero Gravity has been constructed takes learnings from digital technologies and apps which people use everyday and transfers them into the access space, which I think is really powerful. The area has been crying out for an innovative approach that can take the passion and expertise of current undergraduates and channel it in a digital way.”

Zero Gravity uses a targeted social media campaign paired with a data-driven eligibility algorithm to reach and identify talented students from underrepresented areas. Once the algorithm matches the eligible student with their ideal undergraduate mentor, the student receives guidance to prepare for university applications. 

The mentoring continues after the student achieves their offer, to help prepare them for the challenges of university life. Originally from a small town in West Yorkshire, Seddon told Cherwell: “I remember when I turned up at Oxford– I’d never written a proper essay before or experienced a tutorial environment. I felt completely out of my depth. It’s important that students start feeling prepared and also at home.”

The mentoring relationship facilitated by the app aims not only to provide academic support, but also to reconcile early feelings of imposter syndrome: “We’ve changed perceptions and stereotypes about what it means to be an Oxford student. What’s so great about being mentored by a current undergraduate is that not only do they have fresh insight having just gone through the process themselves, but they’re also far more relatable. People can meet someone just like them before they arrive and realise that Oxford can be a home.”

The launch of Zero Gravity coincides with the widespread educational disruption of COVID-19 – the Sutton Trust reported in April that the virus is threatening to reverse recent progress in increasing access to the UK’s top universities. Seddon hopes that Zero Gravity will aim to combat these effects, as his digital approach is “a way of unlocking talent, and allowing people with ambition to connect with a mentor and completely change their trajectory.”

Training support for undergraduate volunteers is integrated into the platform, designed to be easy and accessible. Current Oxbridge students can sign up to digitally mentor a student for one hour per week here.

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