Westmont Magazine Student Entrepreneur Designs Bilingual App for Foster Families

When Izzy Esber ’20 tackles a challenging project, she persists until she completes it. A first-generation Lebanese American from Columbus, Ohio—and the first generation in her family to attend college—she has overcome numerous challenges.

Izzy saw a need to involve more multicultural families in foster care during her semester with Westmont Downtown, which focuses on social entrepreneurship. The foster care system only provided materials in English, so she developed an app in both English and Spanish to reach more people and find better placements for Spanish-speaking children. She worked diligently until she perfected the app. Santa Barbara County officials now require every new foster family to use the app’s training package. 

“I wanted to do something to make a difference in Santa Barbara,” Izzy says. “If we’re supposed to be tackling these issues, we should try to make them go away. So every night I went home and worked on the app—every single night.”

Izzy’s proposal for the foster care app emerged as the semester’s “Big Idea” and led to interviews with Our County Our Kids, part of the Child Welfare Services Division. In addition to making the app bilingual, Izzy designed it to be easy to use, especially for families lacking sophisticated tech skills.

Her professors praise Izzy for persistently sticking with a problem and seeing it to completion. “As she developed the app, she tested it dozens of times to ensure that it worked and the target demographic used it,” says Rachel Rains Winslow, director of Westmont Downtown and the Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “Initial analytics revealed problems with the Spanish translation feature. Because she monitored the launch closely, Izzy pivoted quickly and incorporated a new translation platform that worked seamlessly to deliver content. Within days, usage of the app skyrocketed because of her commitment to getting it right.”

Izzy also showed initiative by becoming the first person to earn a bachelor’s degree at Westmont in film and media studies, a major she created for herself. With guidance from art professor Lisa DeBoer, Izzy developed a program that included English, media and film classes. A three-year internship with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival led to a paid position as a production coordinator.

Students ask Izzy for her petition so they too can develop their own majors. “I tell them they have to develop their own letter and ask their advisers to write stuff,” she says. “It’s a long, stressful process, but it’s really worth it.” 

Izzy has shown a short film at Westmont’s Fringe Festival, and she’s creating and funding a short foreign film in Arabic and English through her connections with fellow alumni and family. “I’m still developing it, but it’s about an undocumented Middle Eastern in the states,” she says. “I plan to enter it into film festivals.” 

In high school, Izzy edited together college recruitment videos for fellow athletes, which led to her recruitment as a goalie on Westmont’s women’s soccer team. A first-team, All-League soccer player in 2014 and 2015, Izzy led Grandview Heights High School to its first district/regional final game victory in 2015.

In her second season as a goalie at Westmont, she broke her leg and considered transferring to another college. “But that didn’t make sense,” she says. “I was already going to be a junior, and Westmont’s small pool gave me the opportunity to be a big fish. Staying was the best decision I could have ever made, and I will never regret it.

 “Don’t look at the challenge, seize the opportunity,” Izzy says. “My Westmont education gave me the confidence and flexibility to innovate, design and problem-solve, and I’m ready to go wherever I can meet a need.”