by Mythili Mandadi '11
In mid-August, Paul Sullivan of the New York Times remarked that the private tutoring business was one industry in America that seemed immune to recession. Parents are paying tutors higher and higher fees to help guide their children into the best colleges. The costs have grown to hundreds of dollars an hour, while the quality of tutors is decidedly mixed. Allen Zhang '07, now a senior at Yale, saw this first-hand as an instructor in a popular tutoring service. He was frustrated seeing so many students turn away because of the glaring price tag and those that were paying got far less than their money's worth. Zhang found others in the Blair Magnet community that felt the same frustrations, and along with Cyril Lan '07 (MIT), Ben Shih '09 (Carnegie Mellon), Janice Lan '10 (Stanford), and Kyujoo Choi '10 (UMCP), an idea was born –
Inspired by the magnet’s legendary Math Help, the founders of Insight Inc. endeavored to create a free service to help students learn, but not learn the hard way. In July, they kicked off their tutoring service at North Bethesda Middle School.
Initially, they relied on an office-hours model, where tutors named their time and place and waited for tutees to show up. The coordinators and volunteers then adjusted their approach to group by subject, and they held several events through the summer. There were a few hurdles, as the logistics of renting space, advertising, and organizing students and volunteers limited the initial turnout. But the program grew throughout the summer, and Insight Inc. began to look to the fall and the new school year.
Insight Inc. wanted a unique style for their program, and they came up with the innovative idea of an online community where questions could be posted and answered by others. This type of broad question-and-answer community was already implemented by ex-Google execs as Quora, however, so Insight Inc. decided to focus on a high-quality moderated forum, which could allow direct communication between tutors and students when face-to-face contact wasn’t possible.
What holds it apart from Ivy Insiders, Kaplan Tutoring, or Sylvan Learning isn’t just the price tag, or lack thereof. Insight Inc., even when compared to its gratis counterparts like Peer2Peer, is unique in its community approach where students can learn from each other as well as their tutors. This creates a sense of camaraderie even though students and tutors may be on opposite sides of the country. Tutoring is available in general subject areas such as math and science as well as advice for standardized testing, college advice, and essay editing.
Insight Inc. is also reaching out to other community organizations in the DC area. Janice Lan is collaborating with the Chinese Community and Cultural Center to construct a program for all ages along with another volunteer group.
Despite the small size of the program and its recent start, turnout has been steady and controllable. Insight Inc. has spread beyond its initial groupies to Blair, Richard Montgomery, Poolesville, and is slowly spreading throughout Montgomery County. Two new branches are ready to launch in Virginia near Thomas Jefferson as well as at the University of Pennsylvania.
While there are no plans to capitalize this venture, the founders do have bold visions for the organization’s future and hope to venture beyond academia, reaching “potentially…everything – not just academics: do you need some help learning how to play volleyball? I have some time on Saturday; I’ll train you a little bit.”
If you wish to join Insight Inc., you can register at http://www.insight-inc.org/. All are invited to join the forum and participate directly.