Navigating Higher Ed Benefits with A Chatbot Named Wyatt with Erika Blumenthal and Daniel O’Donnell

In the episode, Mike Palmer hosts Erika Blumenthal, the Chief Operating Officer at Benefits Data Trust (BDT), and Daniel O’Donnell, the Associate Director of Higher Education at BDT. We discuss the organization’s mission to help individuals access social safety net benefits in the U.S., with a focus on supporting college students and how they use a Chatbot named Wyatt to communicate benefits to higher ed students.

Erika and Daniel share their professional backgrounds and how they ended up at BDT. We delve into the challenges students face, such as food insecurity and the complex process of applying for benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The conversation centers around Wyatt, an AI chatbot developed by BDT to assist students in completing the FAFSA. Daniel explains how Wyatt leverages AI and text messaging to provide scalable support, addressing the need for accessible guidance amid recent FAFSA changes. We reference this Education Northwest Report in the episode.

We also explore the stigma surrounding public benefits, advocating for a shift in language and approach. Erika and Daniel highlight BDT’s efforts to raise awareness, simplify processes, and partner with universities and state agencies to connect students with the resources they need to persist and graduate.

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Episode References

Baker, S. (2024, March 5). I Was a Higher Ed Case Manager: What I Wish I Knew Then About Helping Students.

Hodara, M., Uriostegui, M., Maller, R., & Davidson, S. (2023). Connecting College Students to
Public Benefits
(p. 41). Education Northwest.

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