While other students were dreading how they’d spend months indoors, rising seniors Andrew Tran and Rayan Yu, from Justice High School and James Madison High School, respectively, immediately set to work on a new phone app that sought to help people learn through the quarantine brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“During quarantine there’s so much to do, especially with innovation,” said Andrew Tran.
Since founding the non-profit inGenius X in the summer of 2018, Tran and Yu have made it their mission to rectify achievement gaps in education.
This past April, the pair created the AI-based tutoring tool and app, AmeliaX, that has already spread to a base of 60,000 users with people as far away as Iran and India.
The two have been affected by first-hand experiences. When he founded the non-profit, Yu had just returned from tutoring in his father’s hometown in rural China.
Tran said he started to notice how “My own friends couldn’t afford things like backpacks and pencils and that started to affect me at a close point.”
Tran asked himself what the county could do to fix this, before realizing that it was actually doing everything it could, and yet more was still needed. So the pair took their knack for technology as well as the privilege of time and financial well-being their family provides them to help others who may not share those advantages.
“There’s such an achievement gap [where] higher-ups can afford these personal tutors but in these lower income areas, education might not be the first necessity. It might be putting food on the table, providing shelter, things like that,” Tran said. “If we can provide some sort of digital platform for students to have some sort of experience with a tutor, I think we’re starting to close this achievement gap and really make an impact.”
Although they don’t have full metrics yet, the pair has done their best to connect with the community and get feedback. They’re aware that they can’t supplant a full curriculum but their goal is to be able to help.
“Most of the feedback has been anecdotal. It’s like ‘The first time I’ve had fun doing calculus,’ and that really pushes us to improve ourselves,” said Tran.
Tran and Yu met through mutual friends and then in person at the Fairfax Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
“There’s a lot of young app makers now who are changing the world and we both shared this passion for fixing the educational disparities both locally and globally.” said Tran. “We wanted to create impact, but what are we best at? It’s with technology that we can create that impact.”
They first found success in their freshman year with the app Mathtivity which gained them attention when they won the 2019 Congressional App Challenge from over 2,100 entries.
Mathtivity, first published in Feb. 2018, teaches students STEM subjects like engineering and math through various videos, prepares them for the SATs and ACTs and connects struggling students with a tutor. According to Tran and Yu, the app is distinguished from similar apps in that it’s more collaborative.
In the summer of 2018, Yu took the lead on founding a non-profit and registering it with the State Corporation Commission. Because they were minors, Yu and Tran found an adult mentor to help them with the paperwork and serve on their board.
Yu was inspired by, among others, Nadya Okamoto who founded the non-profit Period in 2014 at the age of 16.
“Seeing teens across the country do things like that, we think maybe we can’t just right off the bat get that much support, but we can work by ourselves to [impact] the things we care about which relates to our family history and local history in general,” he said.
The duo also feels they were blessed when they were waitlisted by the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
“For going to Justice or Madison for Rayan, it’s given us a lot of extra time to explore our own interests [and make our own time with it]. I know a lot of people at Jefferson are just piled on with homework,” said Tran. “To really explore yourself I think you need a lot more free time.”
“From my perspective, it’s actually probably a blessing that we both did not get into Thomas Jefferson because it really allowed us to explore a lot of different initiatives outside of school work and while still being decently academically challenged though maybe not as much as TJ, we still have a lot more time to explore for initiatives that we like to conduct outside of school whether that be volunteer work, extracurricular activities, sports or anything else,” Yu added.
With one year of high school left, the pair agree that nothing’s off the table.
“I think a traditional educational experience is very beneficial as it has [been] for the past generations and people in our generation even generations,” said Yu. “We just have to see what comes our way and always do what we think is right.”
Rayan Yu and Andrew Tran’s website can be found at ingeniusx.org and their apps, Mathtivity and AmeliaX, can be found on your phone’s app store.