Helping Academy Graduates Stay on Track and Connected through Technology


The Grizzly Youth Academy (GYA) promotes leadership and academic skills for teens while building self-esteem, pride, and discipline. The academy is part of the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program in 30 US states and territories designed for students ages 16-18 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk. The goal is to help them through an intensive education and rehabilitation program which uses National Guard cadres to establish a strict routine, instill the value of teamwork, and promote a goal-oriented mindset. Youth must apply to the GYA and be accepted before they can attend this demanding program. Since it opened in 1998, more than 6,400 cadets have completed the program that supports them in leading successful and fulfilling lives.


After 22 weeks in a highly structured environment at the Grizzly Youth Academy (GYA), many cadets face the greatest challenge and resistance when they return home. Although they adopt healthy habits and a strong sense of unity with their peers, they struggle to maintain discipline and connection after graduation. Graduates who live far away from other Grizzly cadets express similar sentiments, describing their transition as difficult and isolating.

Innovation in Action

The GYA partnered with the Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub) powered by Amazon Web Services to address the issue. The DxHub led an innovation workshop with current and former cadets, leadership, educators, and specialists to assess how technology could keep graduates connected and motivated to succeed. They utilized Amazon’s Working Backwards methodology with cadets and staff members to identify students’ needs and staff insights. They relied heavily on students’ experience to facilitate dialogue about what graduates truly need after leaving the GYA. Many graduates have stated their strong desire to stay connected with GYA and how being connected helps them remain motivated to stay on track. To help keep graduates connected and motivated, the team has built a cross-platform mobile application that provides motivational content and a way for cadets to remain personally accountable. The system uses AWS AppSync and AWS Lambda to provide youth a gamified daily planner. Cadets use it to assign and complete tasks based on an action plan created prior to leaving GYA. They earn points for completing these tasks, which allows them to rank up within the application. As they move closer to “gold,” they gain access to premium content like motivational videos. The app also allows cadets to receive notifications from GYA about upcoming events and personalized content from a counselor, and offers easy access to resources like contact information and help when needed. Counselors use the data from the app to track individual progress and keep tabs on those who are struggling. The team plans to launch the application following this class graduation.

Supporting Documents

The DxHub innovation process based on Amazon’s Working Backwards methodology results in several artifacts that help inform and guide the result. Below is a description of each and their purpose in the process.

Story Board A series of frames are designed to illustrate the problem and the impact of the solution visually.
Press Release & Frequently Asked Questions During the Innovation Workshop, a fictional Press Release and nonfictional Frequently Asked Questions are drafted. This is a tool that is used to define the solution and why it matters to the customer.
Mockups A clickable user interface that demonstrates the solution.
Source Code All of the code and assets developed during the course of creating the prototype.

About the DxHub

The Cal Poly Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub) is a strategic relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is the world’s first cloud innovation center supported by AWS on a University campus. The primary goal of the DxHub is to provide real-world problem-solving experiences to students by immersing them in the application of proven innovation methods in combination with the latest technologies to solve important challenges in the public sector. The challenges being addressed cover a wide variety of topics including homelessness, evidence-based policing, digital literacy, virtual cybersecurity laboratories and many others. The DxHub leverages the deep subject matter expertise of government, education and non-profit organizations to clearly understand the customers affected by public sector challenges and develops solutions that meet the customer needs.