A first-generation Nigerian-American, Jonathan Muruako CAS'17 SPP'24 grew up in a low-income household in Mississippi, where access to educational resources was limited. After Muruako began attending the University of Pennsylvania, he found himself constantly needing to play catch-up in an educational environment different from his upbringing. He recognized that many other first-generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students faced similar challenges as he did. According to his research, only 10% of first-generation students graduate within six years, while close to 45% end up dropping out.
His personal experience inspired him to bridge the gap for first-gen students by creating Fitalyst. The startup’s mission is to re-humanize campus student data to help close the achievement gap for first-gen college students by empowering them with self-regulation tools to help them navigate their academic journey successfully.
Muruako recently received the Summer of Impact: Venture Award and is currently hosting two Summer of Impact: Fellows, Abdinajib Mohamed E'24 and Ethan Yu E'26. Mohamed is a rising senior studying electrical engineering and is responsible for back-end development. Yu is a rising sophomore studying computer science and is working on front-end development.
This is probably the best opportunity that we have won so far, and I feel honored and blessed to have this opportunity. As a solo non-technical founder, working with Abdi and Ethan has been exactly what Fitalyst needs to get to the next step. It’s been great learning from them and brainstorming with them to see what we can create this summer.
The team is currently working on creating a browser extension, Dash, that promotes self-regulation to help students keep the most urgent and important tasks top of mind. The Dash experience opens up on every new tab and its centerpiece is a personal countdown timer that reminds students of their next scheduled activity, whether it be a class, a meeting, or even their intended bedtime. The timer encourages students to plan ahead and manage their time effectively by helping students help themselves.
“Procrastination is a big issue, especially with first-gen students who have less institutional knowledge of what to do and when to do things. It's the tool I wish I had when I was navigating undergrad,” Muruako says.
Dash’s other features include a predictive mood and energy tracker to help students tackle stressful academic weeks, a timer for focused study sessions, and a traffic light indicator to quickly know when something is important or urgent at a glance.
As first-generation students, both Mohamed and Yu resonated greatly with Fitalyst’s mission when they first joined. “It has a lot of similarities to what I went through as a first-gen student, and Dash is a piece of technology I would’ve loved when I first started college,” Mohamed says. “I’ve learned a lot working on the backend for Fitalyst, and I’ve definitely been able to add to my skill set.”
Fitalyst’s mission really resonated with me, and I empathize with a lot of its concerns. Growing up, there were times it felt like I was starting from a lower place or had to learn quicker than my peers
At Fitalyst, Ethan is currently working on wireframing and developing the user interface of Dash. “It’s a really interesting technical problem because there’s so much information, and so part of it is finding creative ways to fit information on a screen so small.”
Over the next year, Muruako hopes to keep expanding on and testing Dash. “By the end of the summer, we will have a testable MVP that we can share with students at Penn and receive their valuable feedback,” Muruako says. “We want to get feedback from students to see if it’s something they actually want and to make sure it’s actually helping them become their best selves.”
At Penn, Muruako is currently a nonprofit leadership graduate student focusing on social entrepreneurship. He completed his undergrad at Penn in 2017 and currently holds a Masters in Public Health and Bioethics, also from Penn. Throughout his time at Penn, he has engaged with many of the Venture Lab’s initiatives, such as the Impact Evaluation Workshop, where Fitalyst served as a ‘case study’ that attendees examined to brainstorm potential impact evaluation strategies and approaches.
Muruako considers Penn to be one of the best places to be a student entrepreneur because of its extensive network of people and resources. “You can reach out to anybody. You’re probably only one person removed from an expert you can talk to who can give you the perspective you need. There's so many resources on a college campus to help you build whatever you want to build, and there’s so many potential team members on campus that can help you build what you need to build,” he explains. “Work on something you're actually passionate about and you will find your unique earned insight as you learn and build what you think you're destined to build.”
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