PenPal Schools – Connecting to Learn Together

The following is a guest post from Joe Troyen, Founder and CEO of PenPal Schools, winner of our Dell World 2014 Pitch Slam, which was the culminating event for the annual Tech Innovation Day Series, hosted by Dell for Entrepreneurs


In today’s increasingly interconnected world, it’s more important than ever for students to be exposed to other cultures and perspectives at an early age.  However, due to growing pressures on teachers to align all instruction to academic standards, cultural exchange programs like PenPals have fallen out of fashion.

Students at the Crossover Academy in Ghana wait to write to peers in California using PenPal SchoolsWe started PenPal Schools because we believe that meaningful cultural exchange should be a part of every student’s education.  We set out to create a program where students can experience that great cultural exchange within the context of an academically rigorous curriculum that aligns to academic standards.

In addition to sharing their personal lives, students using PenPal Schools exchange perspectives on global issues and practice foreign languages through standards-aligned courses designed for students of all ages and abilities.  Courses include a World News curriculum for students to share perspectives on global issues, as well as foreign language courses for learners of Spanish, French, Chinese, and English to practice their target language with native speakers.

After starting out with a handful of students connecting through email, we’ve quickly grown to over 50,000 students in more than 50 countries.  It’s truly amazing how excited students around the world are to share their experiences and discover new cultures.

New technology has enabled us to modernize the traditional PenPal exchange through sleek apps for browsers and mobile devices that make communication fun for students and easy for teachers.  At its core, however, the value of PenPal Schools does not lie in its code or features, but in the students and teachers sharing their lives and perspectives.  PenPal Schools is not just a product or an app; it’s a global community of students, educators, and parents connecting to learn together.

Winning the Dell World Pitch Slam finals has been transformational for us.  In the days following the contest, stories from the event from EdSurge, Silicon Hills and more reached educators around the world. We have experienced a huge boost in enrollment in India, Latin America, Europe, and most of all in China, where over 20,000 students signed up within 48 hours!

But even more important than the press is the opportunity to partner with Dell to spread PenPal Schools across school districts around the world. 

By including the PenPal Schools app on Dell devices, students and teachers can instantly use their new Dell products to connect for eye-opening, highly educational experiences.  We also hope to work with Dell to provide devices to low-income schools around the world to help them connect their students to learn about the world around them and share their own unique perspectives. 

Thanks to Dell’s relationships with so many schools and technology partners in the US and abroad, we have a tremendous opportunity to grow our global community and promote cultural awareness and literacy around the world.


Joe TroyenJoe Troyen, Founder & CEO of PenPal Schools is fueled by two passions: bringing people together to learn about different cultures and creating great products that people love to use.

Before PenPal Schools, Joe studied International Relations at Pomona College and worked for 5 years designing software products for clients in Education and Health Care.

Joe has had the opportunity to meet many of the PenPal Schools students and teachers around the world and across the USA, and their passion for learning and sharing their cultures continues to inspire him and the rest of the PenPal Schools team.

About the Author: Laura Pevehouse

Laura Pevehouse was profiled as one of five “social media mavens” in the March 2009 issue of Austin Woman Magazine and named an AdWeek’s TweetFreak Five to Follow. She has been part of the Dell organization for more than 15 years in various corporate communications, employee communications, public relations, community affairs, marketing, branding, social media and online communication roles. From 2014-2018, Laura was Chief Blogger/Editor-in-Chief for Direct2DellEMC and Direct2Dell, Dell’s official corporate blog that she help launch in 2007. She is now a member of the Dell Technologies Chairman Communications team. Earlier in her Dell career she focused on Global Commercial Channels and US Small and Medium Business public relations as part of the Global Communications team. Prior to that, she was responsible for global strategy in social media and community management, as well as marcom landing pages, as a member of Dell’s Global SMB Marketing, Brand and Creative team. When she was part of Dell’s Global Online group, Laura provided internal consulting that integrated online and social media opportunities with a focus on Corporate Communications and Investor Relations. She managed the home page of, one of the top 500 global web sites in Alexa traffic rank, and first brought web feeds and podcasts to the ecommerce site. In her spare time she led Dell into the metaverse with the creation of Dell Island in the virtual world Second Life. Laura has earned the designation of Accredited Business Communicator from the International Association of Business Communicators, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Louisiana State University. Before joining Dell Financial Services in 2000, she worked at the Texas Workforce Commission and PepsiCo Food Systems Worldwide.