November 21, 2018

Senior Entrepreneur

UMass Amherst student helps ease teenage angst

University of Massachusetts Amherst senior Ashley Olafsen has already decided on her post-graduation plans. She wants to be the Bill Nye of wellness programs for middle and high school students. And her dream is already taking shape in the form of a business she started in high school: MOVE, a series of workshops on self-esteem, body image, mental health, and relationships to help ease the angst of teenage girls.

Her entrepreneurial spirit was ignited when she realized in her sophomore year of high school in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, that she was not alone in struggling with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough in a lot of different ways, especially not pretty enough. And I felt consumed by negative emotions,” she recalls. She and some friends decided to produce a workshop for eighth graders in the hope of helping younger girls develop confidence, strong self-esteem, and positive body images. After five months of working with guidance counselors and administrators on content, the workshop was offered to 30 girls.

UMass Amherst’s Ashley Olafsen speaking at the Brown University Entrepreneurship Conference for Women.

Its success prompted Olafsen to create MOVE and to develop more workshops and market them to schools. “That was how I stumbled into entrepreneurship,” she says. The program is now being used in three Massachusetts school districts.

In addition to starting MOVE, Olafsen also found time in high school to organize annual summer conferences, write two books, give a TEDx talk, and present at an educational conference attended by 2,000.

At UMass, Olafsen hasn’t slowed down, taking advantage of many campus opportunities. She designed her own major, Empowerment through Education, in the Bachelor’s Degree in Individual Concentration (BDIC) program, with political science as her second major. She has also enlisted the help of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, the university’s program that helps transfer ideas into businesses.

With help from the Berthiaume Center’s mentors and experts in launching new businesses, Olafsen has further developed MOVE’s reach and expanded the programming to include teenage boys. At the UMass Entrepreneurs Club, she met Tom Leary ’19, now a business partner, who helped her record a 10-part, 90-minute interactive video series for a mixed-gender audience. The videos are designed to motivate teen girls and boys to speak up, especially in asking for mental health services. Her work garnered her a nomination from the Berthiaume Center for a $500 Grinspoon Award.

Whether it’s an eating disorder or depression or any other reason to seek help from a professional, says Olafson, “We give teens the vocabulary and courage to tell their parents.”