By Julia Munemo
Over dinner one night at a restaurant near their downtown Manhattan homes, Alex Mallory ’07 and Buck Marshall ’09 hatched a plan.
Mallory was excited to tell his friend about the new electronic whiteboard environment his tutoring business, Competitive Edge, was about to launch. Mallory knew it would enable him to expand his business worldwide—reaching high school students in Italy and Japan who wanted to take the SAT and apply to American colleges.
But Marshall, a venture capitalist, saw a different opportunity. Why not start a nonprofit and bring that same high-quality tutoring—for free—to underprivileged students in this country? Everything was in place: Mallory already had a stable of well-trained, highly educated SAT and ACT tutors. And now he had a way to dissolve the geographical barriers between this New York-based team and students across the country.
“A lot of underprivileged students have Internet access—through school, a YMCA, a public library, or in their homes,” Marshall says.
In 2013 the pair, who met in a history class during Marshall’s first year at Williams, set up the nonprofit, its website and electronic platform, and Electric Education was born.
Here’s how it works: Competitive Edge tutors sign up if they’re interested in working for Electric Education. Thanks to Marshall and Mallory’s tireless fundraising efforts, the tutors still earn a fee, although it’s a fraction of their usual rate. “The tutors are excited to work with Electric Education because they believe in the good we’re doing,” Marshall says.
The tutors are then partnered with well-performing, underprivileged students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to private tutoring. In weekly one-on-one sessions, tutor and student both sign on to the electronic whiteboard, which features audio and visual conferencing and a shared workspace. Each can make notes, solve problems, turn pages, or highlight passages on the screen, talking with one another all the while.
“It is just like a traditional, in-person tutoring session,” Mallory says. With the added benefit that the work session can be saved as a PDF and reviewed later, when the student is studying on her own.
In its first few months, Electric Education has reached students in Texas and California—one of whom recently earned her high school’s highest SAT score on record. They’re now planning to partner with schools and after-school programs in other parts of the country.
Marshall explains that so many talented, underprivileged students work extremely hard in school, but the SAT and ACT pose a different challenge because “they are extremely specialized tests.” Marshall learned this the hard way, when he volunteered as a tutor himself. “I just wasn’t doing the kids justice. Now we exclusively use trained, paid tutors.”
“Electric Education students are averaging 250-300 point gains,” Mallory adds. “That kind of impact can have life-changing consequences, including where these kids get to go to college.”
To learn more about Electric Education, visit their website, www.ElectricEducation.com.