September 5, 2018 | Tech Nonprofits

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students

This is the sixth piece in Fast Forward’s 2018 Accelerator Series featuring UPchieve, an on-demand tutoring app for low-income students.

The odds were stacked against Aly Murray. As one of 30 Million low-income children in the U.S., her chances of graduating from college were much lower than her peers who came from higher income families. That didn’t stop Aly, whose story ends with a bachelor’s degree and professional success. But that’s not the story for most low-income students, who make up over half of U.S. high schoolers. The stark reality is that only 14% of low income 10th graders will earn a bachelor’s degree within 10 years.

Aly’s Late Night Tutor: The Internet

After working her after-school job as a waitress at a Chinese food restaurant, Aly would return home late, tired, with homework looming before her. Though Aly was motivated and made straight As, when it came time to apply for college, her mother was unable to help her. Aly’s mother was a 1st-generation Cuban immigrant who didn’t tap into higher education until later in life. This situation is common. 61% of low income children have parents who are not college educated, which makes finding support for homework and applications for college and financial aid particularly tough. Without help navigating the process, Aly had to figure it out on her own by searching the Internet.

The Big Idea

61% of low-income students don’t have college-educated parents. UPchieve is standing in to help with free, on-demand STEM tutoring at all hours. 

“I didn’t know basic things,” Aly says, “Like that I needed to take the SAT. I was really close to giving up and trying to make my way forward in life without a Bachelor’s degree.” Because Aly had no one to turn to for advice during her college application process, she ended up applying to a ton of schools she eventually discovered she could never afford. So Aly started at a community college. Luckily, she made her university dreams come true a few years later when she transferred to UPenn. Aly recalls the paradigm shift she experienced once she was surrounded by a bounty of resources. It propelled her forward, and upon graduating, Aly landed a job with J.P. Morgan.

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students
Aly and her friend Vineeta at UPenn Graduation | Photo credit: UPchieve

The Search for Meaning Outside the 8-8

The grind was real. Aly was working from 8am – 8pm day in and out. On paper, she’d made it in the professional world, but internally she wasn’t feeling fulfilled by her work. She sought out a volunteer tutor role to give back and provide opportunities for other low-income students. But with her grueling work schedule, Aly found it challenging to find a flexible gig. And she wasn’t alone. Half of Americans cite time and schedule constraints as the reason they don’t volunteer. Aly asked herself, “Why weren’t any nonprofits bringing late night tutoring to high school students? Getting the resources to succeed should be easy for a motivated student who really wants to go to college.”

That’s when vision struck and Aly decided to build UPchieve, an on-demand tutoring app for low-income high schoolers focused on helping with STEM, college applications, and financial aid. Aly worked on the project tirelessly, recruiting 30 volunteers ranging from education experts to engineers to help her build. A year and change later, Aly decided to go all in. She quit her job at J.P. Morgan and became laser-focused on building UPchieve. “Many of the challenges I faced are things that UPchieve would have helped with,” Aly says. “We’re serving the students that don’t have somebody at home who can help them.”

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students
Photo credit: Fast Forward

A Solution for Students Like Vannesa

Vannesa (named after Van Ness street) is a recent high school graduate with aspirations of becoming a neuroscientist. As the first in her family to graduate high school, one of the challenges she faced was getting homework help when she needed it. “I get home around 9pm and start homework really late,” she says, “If I have a question, I can’t go to my parents for help. They don’t understand the homework because they didn’t graduate high school, and there’s a language barrier.” For Vannesa, even looking up information online wasn’t simple, because she lacked necessary context. This often meant waiting till the next day to ask her teacher clarifying questions.

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students
Aly and Vannesa | Photo credit: Fast Forward

Vannesa tested UPchieve and found it really helpful. “I really think the UPchieve app will be helpful for students like me,” she said. To reach students like Vannesa, UPchieve is partnering with nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters that work in communities with underserved populations. These partner organizations make sure every student they work with knows about UPchieve, so students have somewhere to turn when they’re working on their homework late at night.

Tutoring on Your Own Time

UPchieve’s product is meeting a demand on the volunteer-side, too. Professionals and college students can volunteer at their convenience, which is ideal for folks who have busy schedules during the work week. “UPchieve doesn’t waste a single hour of a volunteer’s time,” according to Aly, “Volunteers go about their daily life and get a push notification when a student needs help.” Once they’ve been notified, they engage with students via chat and digital whiteboard. Then, they can work out the problems with students in real time.

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students
High School students testing UPchieve | Photo credit: UPchieve

To be a candidate for a volunteer tutor role, one must both pass a background screening and have knowledge in one of the 14 different help topics UPchieve offers, including STEM and college planning. “We give them the training materials that they need to feel confident in their abilities,” Aly says. “Furthermore, the certification system makes sure volunteers have the base knowledge they need to be effective tutors.”

UPchieve plans on scaling their volunteer roster by partnering with companies whose employees are looking for flexible, skills-based opportunities to give back. The team is also experimenting with on-campus recruiting to encourage college students to tutor. UPchieve’s ultimate goal is to have enough volunteers on hand to meet student needs at any hour.

UPchieve tutoring app
UPchieve mobile app

UPchieve Makes On-Demand Tutoring a Reality

The UPchieve app just launched in beta and is available for any public high school or charter school student. With an ambitious goal of reaching 100,000 students by 2020, Aly is ready to scale UPchieve. When we asked her about future aspirations, Aly says, “We really want to reach the students that may not have motivation yet.” Aly is considering gamification as a way to incentivize unmotivated students to spend more time on their homework.

Aly believes she can shift the scales with UPchieve. “My education changed my life,” she says, and she wants to create the same trajectory-changing opportunities for other students. With UPchieve, Aly imagines a world in which students like Vannesa, as well as the 30 million low-income children across the U.S., will never be without the support they need to succeed again.

This Former J.P. Morgan Analyst Quit Her Job to Build an On-Demand Tutoring App for Low-Income Students
Aly and Sarahi (Fast Forward 2018) | Photo credit: Fast Forward