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The Tipping Point: Chris Bennett

By Marin Jorgensen on May 10, 2011 3:25 PM

Chris Bennett with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Lucky for him, Chris Bennett, Ed.M.’05, did not have a high school experience that was shaped by bullying. “I was probably bullied as much as any 6-foot-3-inch, 120-pound high school student buried in a computer was,” he says. “But, fortunately, I have not been involved in any severe cases of bullying.”

Still, the subject was something he thought a lot about last fall when several tragic cases of teen bullying were highlighted in the media.

“It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots,” he says, “and realize what I was working on could be adapted to give students the ability to discreetly use text messaging and voicemails to report incidents of bullying to counselors.”

What Bennett was working on was Callyo, a technology based on the relatively new ability to program phone lines.

“One can now do virtually anything with phone numbers, phone calls, and text messages with just a few lines of code,” he says. In fact, he had already used the technology to develop the Mobile Symptom Journal, a program — inspired by his fiancee’s struggle with the spinal condition ankylosing spondylitis — that allows patients to text in how they are feeling, creating a log that is easily accessible by their doctors.

Since text messaging is the preferred method of communication for many teens, Bennett had a hunch Callyo could translate to a school setting.

Eliminating the awkwardness of an in-person visit to the counselor’s office could erase the hesitancy that many teens feel about reporting harrassment by their peers, Bennett says. A tip line also would provide the means by which school officials could learn of problems early on, making them more able to address situations before they escalate. Tips are anonymous by design, but, Bennett points out, “there is always a way to identify the student if law enforcement needs to get involved.”

The current challenge for Callyo is building awareness and getting it into as many schools as possible across the nation. To that end, the bullying tip line has been presented to the U.S. Department of Education’s Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools. And Bennett recently met with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Peter McKay, to share the technology. This year, Callyo will be marketed to 5,000 schools in 50 states.

Callyo is also being used by private companies to curb harassment and discrimination and by law enforcement agencies to collect tips from citizens in their communities.

“Whether we’re helping victims of bullying take the first step by connecting with a counselor or aiding law enforcement put away criminals abusing children,” says Bennett, “I believe Callyo will have a strong future putting important technology in the hands of local schools and police departments everywhere.”