ASU psychology entrepreneur brings start-up to education

COMPASS for Courage is a social and emotional learning curriculum for elementary schools targeted to students struggling with anxiety


February 1, 2018

Entrepreneurs see the world in a different light, capitalizing on opportunity and balancing incredible risk with the chance of a massive reward.

Ryan Stoll, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology, is no different as an entrepreneur. His reward is much greater than just money, though: he aims to forever change lives through better education. Ryan Stoll, ASU clinical psychology student and co-founder of Compass for Courage Ryan Stoll, ASU clinical psychology student and co-founder of Compass for Courage. Download Full Image

Stoll is the co-creator and founder of the COMPASS for Courage project and is a student in the Courage Lab, which is led by Armando Pina, associate professor of psychology.

COMPASS for Courage is a social and emotional learning curriculum for elementary schools targeted to students struggling with anxiety or stress. The curriculum teaches students practical strategies to manage worries, build problem-solving skills, increase self-confidence and improve relationship-building skills.

“As I was progressing through the psychology PhD program, I realized ways I could leverage my skills and experiences to help overcome some pretty significant challenges,” Stoll said. “Collectively, psychology has hundreds of evidence-based programs that can help improve the well-being of children, adolescents, families and communities. One of the main challenges we psychologists face is how to offer these programs to the people who can benefit the most in ways that are feasible, sustainable and scalable.”

Stoll has been involved his entire life in creative endeavors, from designing logos, to wedding photography, videos and graphic design. The new challenge of delivering evidence-based programs to the community required the kind of creativity not often associated with academia but with the start-up world. The answer became very clear to Stoll: bring the start-up world to mental health intervention and education.

“There are many similarities between mental health intervention science and start-ups: we are creating new solutions to existing problems with limited funds, resources and time,” Stoll said. “We can learn a lot from how successful start-ups operate, create products and scale them to millions of customers in a relatively short amount of time — typically on minimal budgets.”

Like many innovators, Stoll does it all: product design and development, market research, program evaluation and marketing. His nontraditional educational background — he started out as a photography major and worked at UPS in management — helped build a broad skill set and platform to launch his ideas, and all he needed was a spark.

That spark came in the form of winning the ASU Changemaker challenge and both the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at ASU’s Demo Day. These ASU-funded contests provided both the validation and resources needed to make his vision come to life.

“My experiences with Demo Day and all the resources ASU has to offer for student entrepreneurs has really solidified the direction COMPASS is going and where I want to take my career,” Stoll said.

Stoll found that pursuing a nontraditional route during graduate school was welcomed at ASU. He had complete support from his graduate mentors, the clinical psychology faculty and the psychology department while working on COMPASS for Courage.

“I’ve also been fortunate to be supported by grants and fellowships that have enabled me to pursue this route,” Stoll added. “At the same time, I’ve been sharpening my research skills and applying the knowledge I’ve learned from my entrepreneurial journey to the work we are doing in the department.”

For Stoll, being an entrepreneur is more of a mindset change than anything else.

“Being an entrepreneur is about being adaptable and collaborative, being willing to go right when everyone else is going left, seeing problems as opportunities for change and seeing solutions to problems as one way, not the only way,” he said. “It’s actually very similar to my role as a scientist — just with different tools and approaches.”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology

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