Michael Chime

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I am a loser.

I say this because, at age 47, what have I done? A couple of books, some completed marathons, two kids, a dog who urinates on the carpet.

Again, what have I done?

I usually don’t feel this way. Hell, I rarely feel this way. But as you’re about to see, today’s Quaz Q&A features Michael Chime, a soon-to-be Yale University senior who has joined with three classmates to create an app, “Prepared,” that is designed to reduce the response time during school shootings. And, to be clear, this isn’t merely an idea, or aspirational nonsense. Nope. Not only does the app exist, it’s earning rave reviews, and has landed the foursome both a $40,000 investment from Yale and the prestigious $25,000 Miller Prize, awarded to the best student-led venture with a tech service.

Chime also happens to play defensive line for the Yale football team. And he is a beginner speaker of the South African click language—Zulu. And he can recite the alphabet, backward, in roughly two seconds. And he dated Rihanna.

(OK, he didn’t date Rihanna).

The point is, the young man has a future that’s showing itself right now. You can follow him on Twitter here, and learn more about Prepared here.

Michael Chime, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Michael—you and three of your Yale classmates have created an app, “Prepared,” that is designed with the idea of reducing response time during school shootings. So—what, specifically, is the idea? And how will it work?

MICHAEL CHIME: Our app is predicated on the belief that clear and efficient communication is vital for navigating through an emergency situation. Schools across the country are experiencing tremendous communication problems both internally and externally. Take, for example, the Parkland shooting—one of the deadliest school shootings in America. In the Parkland shooting, there were 17 casualties, and many more people were crippled for the rest of their life. And, still to this day, there is a community in grief that will never be the same. Parkland suffered gravely from a lack of effective internal communication. It took the school over three minutes to initiate a “code red” or lockdown alert on their campus, and the shooting only lasted around five minutes. So, for the majority of the shooting, students, faculty, and administrators were scrambling for more information, all of which was to the advantage of the shooter.

Nickolas Cruz was seen and recognized by students and staff entering the building with a rifle-bag before any bullets were fired, but because they had no easy way to communicate this information, they were unable to get the school secured. In addition to this, when Cruz opened fire he set off the fire alarms, which flushed students and teachers out into the hallway and towards the shooter because they had not yet received a “code red.” At the same time, due to a lack of effective communication, the school resource officer (SRO) reported that the gunshots “could be firecrackers,” and has since maintained that he “didn’t know where the gunfire was coming from.” The internal communication flaws that are plaguing schools are directly putting our children and teachers in harm’s way. What’s more, external communication inefficiencies can be seen in the statistics on response times by authorities to school shootings. The average response time of first responders to active shooter events is 18 minutes, while the average school shooting only lasts for 12.5 minutes. So, instead of first responders being there during the shooting when they were needed most, they were only there for the aftermath.

It is for these reasons that we engineered Prepared. Prepared is a one-touch mobile alert system that would be placed in the hands of every trusted faculty member within schools. First, this would greatly improve the internal means of communication by allowing a user to almost instantaneously alert everyone on campus of the events, so the school administrators can take the correct actions within seconds. In addition to this, an alert would be simultaneously sent to first responders with additional critical information. They are able to respond faster and can react with vital information at their disposal. Lastly, our system is customized to fit the specific needs of schools districts, so we can ensure that every school receives the best possible system. Currently, our system is focused on schools, but we genuinely believe that communication can be improved at corporate offices, malls, concerts, places of worship, etc. through our system.

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J.P.: So your app helps make people aware of school shootings. It doesn’t actually do anything to prevent school shootings (not that it could). And I wonder—do you feel like this is simply what it’ll be in America forever and ever. People shooting up schools? Like, is there an actual way to eliminate school shootings in your mind?

M.C.: There’s not a night that goes by where gun violence doesn’t keep me up. My personal mission is to find an all-encompassing solution, and I will ensure that Prepared reflects that mission in every action it takes. So, to answer your question directly: I do reserve hope in the belief that there is an all-encompassing solution, and Prepared’s chief objective is to pursue that solution tirelessly.

Now, that said, we genuinely believe that Prepared can provide some hope for the future right now. It seems the notoriety these killers are receiving for gaudy death totals is a large motivating factor in their corrupted minds. We believe that reliably reducing the fatalities in these shootings, obviously in addition to immediately saving lives, will decrease notoriety-incentivized attacks. After studying what went wrong at various school shootings, it is clear to me that being able to secure schools through effective communication is the first line of defense. But don’t just take that from me. We have received encouraging feedback from countless school administrators. John Dodig, the recently retired principal of Staples High School in Westport, CT, told us early on that our app needs to be in every school across the country, and that it will revolutionize the way schools communicate. Our app will save lives, and that is the first and most important step.

J.P.: How does one invent an app? Soup to nuts?

M.C.: From a technical standpoint, I am extremely lucky to be working alongside some of the top computer engineers at Yale University (Dylan Gleicher ‘21 and Neal Soni ‘22). On that end, the process of creating an app involves programming and designing using software which is specifically geared for the target device, such as using XCode to develop for Apple devices and Android Studio for Android devices.

However, for a product like this, iteration and innovation are at the forefront of our attention on the app’s user interface and features. That being said, I’ll try and take you through some of the high level tasks we deal with on a daily basis. For an app like ours, obviously there’s a very high level of reliability and security we must maintain, and there’s a lot of networking involved. The app has to maintain a reliable connection with our server at a moments notice, which must in turn be able to receive and respond appropriately to any messages. A ton of testing goes into this process every day to ensure that it is as robust as possible. Since the initial conception of our app, we have gathered feedback from countless school administrators, in addition to reaching out and speaking to various nonprofit organizations and people who have experienced some of these tragedies—including students from Sandy Hook and Parkland. We took all of this feedback to heart, and integrated a lot of what they told us into the app. This caused us to keep refining our user interface (UI) and keep expanding and fine-tuning our features to fit exactly what these schools really needed. Recently, we demoed our app to representatives from a large state, and they loved the intuitive features and design.

J.P.: Yale has invested $40,000 in your app, including the Miller Prize for $25,000. So how will that money be used? What are the major costs doing this sort of thing?

M.C.: First, I would like to give a shout-out to the Yale Law School’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Clinic—and specifically Professor Sven Riethmueller, who heads the program. Sven heads our legal team along with Yale Law students to provide sound legal counsel. Their services have been invaluable in facilitating our early growth and success.

In addition to providing funds which allow us to invest in additional research and development, the $40,000 essentially will accelerate our mission by giving us the ability to pursue more schools sooner. Reaching places in need faster is pivotal because we have been unfortunately reminded in the last few weeks that a shooting can happen at any moment. Prior to winning the money, we had secured verbal commitments from multiple schools on implementation for the following school year. However, with not much more than bootstrap funding at that time, we weren’t sure we would be able to have the infrastructure to support any more than that for this coming year. Now, with that funding available, we are confident we can flesh out the technical infrastructure and support structure to allow for a lot more schools. Since winning the prize, we have been in conversations with influential districts that could lead to our app being implemented in thousands of schools across the country. We are even in talks to get the app into every school in an entire state!

Lastly, a huge cost for us right now is ensuring that we have the right insurance. We are searching currently to partner with non-profit organizations to help us with these costs so, again, we can reach as many places that need our system as soon as possible.

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J.P.: How much blame do you assign the NRA? And how do you feel about arming teachers? Or having all schools equipped with metal detectors?

M.C.: We understand how frustrating and devastating it is seeing these teachers unable to fight back during a shooting, but it is our position at Prepared is that arming teachers is not the proper recourse for school shootings. I think rather those who have been trained to react need to utilized better. School resource officers, adding more trained security guards, and getting police on the scene faster are all better alternatives. Those groups need to be made more effective at dealing with school shootings. In this regard, we think that a stronger communication loop would be massively beneficial. Moreover, it would take a significant amount of money to get every teacher in a school properly trained and equipped with a firearm, and many schools are already severely underfunded. Secondly, equipping schools with metal detectors should also be thought about carefully. It’s worth noting that a lot of the scholarship in this area talks about the psychological impact of making children go through security every morning, especially students who come from heavily policed communities. We want schools to primarily remain centers of learning, albeit safe ones.

Ultimately, Jeff, there’s no way to tackle our present school shooting epidemic without having a serious conversation about guns and gun access in the policy realm. This has proven a tricky and often heated conversation to have in our nation’s recent political discourse resulting in little or no change in the status quo. Interest groups like the NRA, for better or worse, are part of this collective complexity. But I think what we can all agree on is that while we’re having these difficult but necessary policy discussions in legislative halls across the country, students and educators deserve to be kept safe from ongoing attacks. Prepared is committed to keeping schools safer and we support any group committed to this as well. That said, I would personally be open to having a dialogue with anyone as committed to meaningful change. As someone who is deeply passionate about the school shooting epidemic and keeping students safe, I think working to find common ground is the best way to actualize meaningful reform.

J.P.: You’re a backup defensive lineman on the Yale football team, and you were All-State and All-District at Saint Ignatius in Cleveland. And I wonder—football? How are we supposed to feel about it, with all the head trauma, all we know about concussions? How do you feel about it?

M.C.: I think this is an awesome question that deserves a lot of thought. Concussions are a growing issue, and the depth of their impact on athletes is still being discovered and researched. I think concussions and head trauma most definitely present a genuine threat to the long term viability of football. That’s part of why I think football’s decline is imminent. Just reflecting on my own experience reveals some of this decline occurring today. When I was playing youth football, there were enough kids playing to field an eight-team youth league in just my town—Mentor, Ohio. Now, that same youth league has vanished and Mentor has had trouble putting 22 kids together; concussions are a huge part of that decline.

Parents worry about the long-term health of their children, and I can’t say that as a parent one day I won’t agree with them. Concussions are scary. The studies on players riddled by them and their stories are hard to hear. However in the midst of all this legitimate criticism of football’s impact I can’t help but love it. Your question asks how one is supposed to feel, and my best response to that is to explain my experience with the game on the field and off the field to help with forming an opinion. In my final game of my senior year, I remember looking around—I was playing on the field that I had grown up watching with my dad. We were in the state championship in 2016 and that game every year is held at Ohio Stadium—the home of the Buckeyes. On our first series we stopped our opponent on three plays and forced a punt. That punt was snapped from around the 20 yard line, so the punter was standing on his own 10. I rushed the A gap, made a move on the upback, got my hands in the air, and blocked the first punt of the game. Then the ball bounced right in front of me where I was able to track it down and score the first touchdown of the 2016 Division One (Best Division in Ohio) State Championship. I remember looking up and seeing a sea of people going crazy as I ran off the field in the stadium I had glorified my whole life.

That play. That game. Providing an experience that I will remember my entire life, an experience that only football could bring for me. In addition to this, football accounts for some of the strongest bonds I have formed with any people throughout my life. There is something to continually being faced with adversity with other people that brings you closer than you ever thought possible. Football, for me, has provided experiences and opportunities that have had a hugely positive impact on my life.

With his family in high school.
With his family in high school.

J.P.: How did you get to this point? What I mean is—you’re a kid in Cleveland, you go to Yale, you develop this app. What’s the path? Why the interest? When did apps first catch your eye? Why?

M.C.: One of the core values that governs my life—stemming from David Goggins’ book, ​“Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds”​—is constantly surrounding myself with uncommon people and then striving, everyday, to be uncommon among that group. This is a value I have exercised throughout my high school career as I worked hard to be the best in both my athletic and academic pursuits. Now, I think it’s important to mention that I have always thought about problems differently.

For example, when I was in grade school, I played football, basketball, and baseball. Those were my sports. I found that in basketball I was big and I could score, but my ball handling was something I struggled with. So, instead of just accepting this weakness, I searched for ways to solve that problem. I started taking stretchy book covers that I had for my school textbooks and taught myself to sew so I could have them fit as a cover for a basketball. I found that by reducing the friction on the ball with the cover, I was able to make a slippery training tool that made the ball extremely hard to handle. When I would take the cover off, I would have much better grip while dribbling because I had become accustomed to training with the cover on. My interest in apps came up in a similar fashion. I see apps and really technology in general as a way that anyone can strive to confront the world’s largest problems. Currently, I see apps as a significant tool that nearly every person has at their disposal as a means to vastly improve the communication problems faced in emergency situations. The problem is the education system is slow to innovate, and in some cases, schools still use the PA-like systems as their primary form of communication, which has been in place since the 1950’s. So, my interest in apps stems mostly from my inherent desire to make a lasting impact on global problems, and apps came as a response to that desire.

J.P.: On May 1 you Tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to North Carolina, the victims, and their families.” I wanna ask a serious question—do people truly believe “thoughts and prayers” can do anything? I’m being literal and real—is there reason to believe, by thinking about the people impacted by a shooting, I can help them? Because we say it ALL the time.

M.C.: That’s a great question Jeff. I do believe that thoughts and prayers can make a difference. The more awareness a major issue has, the more people there are out there thinking about a solution. And that is, I believe, one of the great powers of humanity—to be able to pool together thought and our collective resources to work towards the solution to an important problem. I think of examples like the Ice Bucket Challenge—that generated unparalleled attention and an unprecedented $120 million to use towards ALS research and care. I believe awareness can and does have real impacts. So when I say my thoughts and prayers are with North Carolina—obviously I feel absolutely terrible for the affected families and cannot begin to imagine what they’re going through. But I am also dedicating everything I have to try and find a solution to this terrible epidemic—to try and prevent North Carolina from happening again.

It’s a different case, though, for people who express thoughts and prayers ​in lieu of​ confronting the issue of school shootings. For someone like me, who’s dedicating himself to fixing this epidemic, thoughts and prayers are a ​supplement to​ my efforts, not a ​replacement​ for them. So your question is important because thoughts and prayers are only helpful if they actually lead to actionable change, not if they’re lip service we say to move on from these atrocities more quickly.

On his visit to Yale.
On his visit to Yale.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your athletic career? Lowest?

M.C.: My greatest moment has to be the same experience I detailed in my response to concussions. Playing at Ohio Stadium, scoring the first touchdown, and going on to end the game with 3 1/2 sacks was my greatest moment as an athlete despite having lost that game. My lowest point as an athlete was tearing my ACL at just 12-years old. This made me intimately aware of how dangerous a game—in addition to being so rewarding—football can be.

J.P.: What do you wanna do, post-graduation? What’s your life plan?

M.C.: Again, awesome question that even I don’t fully know the answer to. I will say this, I have talked about my personal mission for Prepared—to find an all-encompassing solution in response to gun violence. That mission, I think, offers a window to a larger theme that will guide my eventual life plan going forward. I will continue to pursue sustainable solutions to global social problems by always directing myself on a path that allows me to positively affect the most people. With that being said, I truly believe Prepared will be the all-encompassing solution that combats one of the largest issues this country faces. And as the leader fronting Prepared, I am ecstatic about our start and potential to offer a lasting solution, while at the same time I am motivated by the fact that we have a lot of work to do. So, I see myself being at Prepared until our mission is achieved, and after that, I see myself following a life plan dedicated to the pursuit of solutions to the world’s largest problems.

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• Yale v. Clemson, football. Final score on Yale’s best day and Clemson’s worst?: Now, Jeff, this is a tough position you have put me in. I got the Bulldogs completing the upset of the century, 24-17.

• Five reasons one should visit Cleveland on his/her next vacation?: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Swenson’s Burgers; Its beautiful Lake Erie beachfront; The cheapest NBA basketball ticket in the country right now in the Cleveland Cavaliers; and to watch America’s Team headed by the NFL’s next MVP— The Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield.

• One question you would ask Eric Clapton were he here right now?: I thought Tears in Heaven was a beautiful and deeply impactful song, and served as a really touching tribute to his son. I would ask if there’s any way he could similarly write and perform a song for the all the people who have been affected by school shooting epidemic.

• Five greatest college sports uniforms are?: Ohio State—It’s my hometown team and my favorite part has to be the buckeyes on the helmet. Yale—Must say I’m a little biased, but there’s so much tradition in the jerseys we put on that it has to go in my top 5. Oregon—I appreciate Oregon always coming out with crazy alerternates. Tennessee—I have always loved the orange color they wear. TCU—Another team with some awesome alternates, but also a horned frog as a mascot is an automatic win.

• What are your three hidden talents?: I can perfectly annunciate Osorachukwu Ifesinachukwu, I am a beginner speaker of the South African click language—Zulu, and I can say the alphabet backwards in just over two seconds.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: Three memories I have from my first date are it was in fifth grade. I remember vividly thinking that getting the date was all I needed to focus, and I didn’t do much planning in what I was gonna talk about during it. So naturally the talking slowed I learned a lot from the socially awkward encounter that involved a lot of sitting in silence.

• Is the Ivy League education $500,000 more valuable than the Ohio State education?: I think wherever you are, you have to make the best of what you’re given. I felt Yale was the right fit for myself personally due to a number of reasons, and there’s no price I can put on the experiences and people I’ve met here.

• Five smells your hate: Portable bathrooms, mushrooms, cigarette smoke, fresh mulch, and worst of all, the football locker room after a hot summer camp practice.

• The world needs to know—what’s it like being teammates with Osorachukwu Ifesinachukwu?: Being teammates with Osorachukwu Ifesinachukwu is awesome. Even though I can pronounce his name perfectly most of the team just calls him Oso. But at the same time, I wouldn’t forget the dynamic brother duo of D. Major Roman and J. Hunter Roman.