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How Students Can Help Drive Your Product Development

By Avanthika Ramesh June 11, 2021

Upon joining the Education Cloud team as an associate product manager (APM), I’ve had the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with and learn from individuals with a history of innovation in the education sector and decades of expertise in building technologies for social good. 

Our team at Education Cloud builds innovative solutions that drive success for students, faculty, staff, and educational institutions at scale. One of the greatest highlights during my time on the Education Cloud team was the opportunity to co-host our most anticipated event this spring: the inaugural student Conversation Design Chatbot Competition for Education

This competition was the first in a series of initiatives for higher education students to build innovative and impactful solutions using Salesforce technology, while also enabling to invest in higher ed student learning and promote opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in tech. 

Screenshot of virtual chatbot competition

Student teams from Georgetown University, Seattle Central College, and University of Washington present their chatbot projects during the virtual case competition.

Case Competition 

Undergraduate and MBA students from 26 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada came together remotely for a three-day competition to build an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that would help their fellow classmates, faculty, parents, and communities prepare for their campus’ reopening efforts in the fall. 

The business case was designed for motivated college students from any degree concentration to explore new concepts in AI; chatbots; natural language processing; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in product development; and conversation design, which is a design format based on human conversation that aims to make two-way communication between a user and a system more natural. 

The virtual event kicked off with an opening ceremony on Tuesday, May 4, where our Salesforce experts led sessions on conversation design principles and elements of inclusive design and DEI. In the opening sessions, we challenged our student participants to explore how their learnings can be applied to invent solutions to problems they are most passionate about.

We also held office hours during the Case Competition week staffed by a passionate team of Salesforce experts in Einstein Bots, DEI, and conversation design. Students were extremely proactive about attending office hour sessions to seek assistance with their projects, connect with our Salesforce mentors and experts, and develop professional industry connections.

Student presenting slides during meeting.

For companies, like, that are building products for students, their voices and ideas should be at the center of product design.

Students Inform Solutions

We saw impressive entries that tackled the problem of campus reopenings from various dimensions. These change makers creatively solved problems that resonated with them and their own communities, addressing mental health and wellness, financial aid and viability, food and housing insecurities, and racial equity. 

The student-led teams included undergrad and MBA students from diverse academic backgrounds, and included areas of study ranging from linguistics and philosophy to astrophysics, finance, and computer science. This wealth of degree program diversity across the board is a reminder of the value of offering these opportunities to students from a variety of STEM and humanities disciplines.

The submissions were too impressive to reward only one winning team. During our closing celebrations, we selected two stellar projects among the entries, with the winning teams including students from University of Washington, Georgetown, and Seattle Central College. 

Read more about the winning submissions, which will be featured at next week’s Education Summit.

During the closing ceremony, Avanthika Ramesh hosts a live interview with Susan Morrow, Salesforce Education Cloud’s VP of Product. Susan shares her advice with students seeking impact driven careers in tech and how staying true to her core values helped shape her path.

The Importance of Company-Led Investments in Students

As a recent college graduate, it wasn’t long ago that I was eagerly seeking similar opportunities to get connected with industry professionals and learn new skills outside the classroom. Participating in company-led hackathons and gaining exposure to case competitions had a significant impact on shaping my career and opening up new opportunities for me in tech, leading me to where I am today. 

I’m inspired by the raw passion, enthusiasm, and curiosity students brought to the competition, even in the midst of finals week. It is invaluable to offer students the opportunity for hands-on, practical experiences that provide learnings they’ll carry throughout the rest of their career.

This event not only provided college students, including underrepresented students in tech from various academic disciplines, an opportunity to immerse in emerging technologies and build new innovations, but also, for the first time, gave us an opportunity to directly listen to the voices of students. As my team and I explore new technologies and dive into new efforts leveraging conversation design, we are incorporating the student voices in the early stages of our design and ideation, which has resulted in a radical shift in how we perceive product development moving forward. We’re building products for students, and their voices and ideas are right at the center of it.

In the coming months, I aspire to evangelize the idea of hosting higher ed competitions and initiatives among more product teams at Salesforce and keep this momentum going! I find it incredibly inspiring to see how my teammates came together to make our Salesforce technologies accessible and engaging for students, with support from our leadership. I can’t wait to see what problems the next generation of graduates tackle as they expand their skills and go wherever their imagination takes them.

Register now to attend Education Summit on June 16th to learn more about the winning solutions, and hear from luminary speakers like Michelle Obama, Bryan Stevenson, and Yuval Noah Harari.

About the Author

Avanthika Ramesh, Education Cloud Associate Product Manager at
Avanthika Ramesh
Education Cloud Associate Product Manager at
Avanthika Ramesh is a product manager on Salesforce Education Cloud. She joined Salesforce as a member of the associate product manager program after graduating from UC Berkeley’s Management Entrepreneurship and Technology (M.E.T.) program, where she pursued dual majors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Business Administration.