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#TGW: A Whisper To A (Brain)stream

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

You just don’t know where or what will bring about the next great innovation.

Georgia Tech is always a pretty good guess for the “Where.”

As for the “What,” that can be something as simple as wanting to avoid duplicating your work or maybe even just hating to drive.

Both of those went into Jaeiza Smith’s formation of Brainstream Tutoring, a virtual tutoring company the 2019 GT graduate in civil engineering and her younger sister Jira, currently attending Stanford, began in 2019, back when virtual learning was more a luxury than a necessity.

“Basically, I was tutoring all around town and I was just driving from place to place and I would tutor for photosynthesis like five times in one week. The same thing, the same strategies, everything,” recalled Smith, who worked as a tutor, including for Georgia Tech student-athletes, during her time as a Tech undergrad. “I was like, ‘What would be a better way so I don’t have to drive around town and everybody would get the same tutoring and quality?’ So Jira and I came up with Brainstream, group-tutoring sessions. Everybody can log in and we would do everything together.”

Georgia Tech athletics began partnering with Brainstream Tutoring since last fall. Brainstream supplies online tutoring in math, science, computer science, English, language, and test prep for standardized tests.

“Right now, it’s a pilot. We’re offering 20 sessions a week, with at least two student-athletes in every session, so we’re servicing approximately 40, 50 students with Brainstream,” said Georgia Tech senior associate athletic director for student services Phyllis LaBaw. “We honed in on subject areas that we knew were going to be a priority for us and that we maybe would have an issue with hiring tutors. It’s just a great story. You have two extremely intelligent individuals as co-founders — Jaeiza and her sister. They’re very much involved with education and tutoring and supplemental support of students. I think that says a lot about them.”

“You’re always evaluating the program to find the areas of continued growth,” said assistant athletic director for student services Chris Breen. “This is just another opportunity to continue to provide the best for our student-athletes, to create that edge for them.”

Partnering with Brainstream allows Smith to continue to give back to Georgia Tech and GT athletics.

“I was tutoring kids in high school and I got an email that asked ‘Do you want to tutor athletes?’ I was like, ‘Why not? I like tutoring and I love environmental science.’ So I signed up,” she said. “It was a great experience in terms of learning how to tutor my peers vs. younger kids. It also taught me how to approach a mindset for tutors because a lot of athletes are juggling so much. I couldn’t even imagine being a Georgia Tech student with all the demands of athletics. So it taught me how to keep a positive attitude, having a growth mindset in my tutoring sessions. Think, ‘You CAN do this,’ ‘You can achieve your goals — academic and athletic goals — that you want to achieve.’”

Brainstream has implemented aspects of “Growth Mindset” into tutoring for student-athletes to understand the contrasting view between fixed and growth mindsets in handling challenges and obstacles, committing effort, dealing with criticism and seeing others succeed.

“We’ve embedded into our tutor training the idea that intelligence can be developed, which correlates well to student-athletes like a practice metaphor,” said Breen. “That’s something that (Smith) didn’t go through but when we asked her, ‘Can you include some growth mindset?’ she jumped all over it.”

Making the leap from idea to actual business came via another Georgia Tech initiative — Create-X. Founded in 2013, Create-X’s goal was to tap into the creativity and ingenuity of Georgia Tech students and give them a roadmap to entrepreneurship. Since then, it’s launched an estimated 230 start-ups.

“Our mission is to instill entrepreneurial confidence and launch real companies,” said Rahul Saxena, Create-X associate director. “Entrepreneurial confidence, we believe, is a lifelong skill. What we see is the students have great ideas but they need to understand, ‘How do you bring it to market?’ Entrepreneurship is very experience-based, so we’re super-excited with what Create-X has done in terms of changing lots of our students’ lives and completely different paths that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise just because they might have been otherwise intimidated by pursuing it. Students need to see, ‘I can be an entrepreneur.’ So ‘Learn, Make and Launch’ are three buckets to map out a pathway for students to get exposure to entrepreneurship.”

Saxena remembers Smith following that pathway, during the summer of 2019 and especially her two-minute, 15-second pitch at Create-X Demo Day 2019 at the Fox Theater.

“What was impressive was Jaeiza and what she had done,” he said. “She had set up a tutoring business on the side, successfully being able to reach out to a client base that she had. She had shown results with the students she had been working with in high school. She had a system and a process that she had created and just didn’t know how to move forward with it. We saw her market — these high school students — and developed a way to deliver content effectively and hold the students’ attention and of course, like several of the companies that have gone through Create-X, during the pandemic, really flourished during that time. They figured out how to deliver content remotely and have experience and then know how to deliver it effectively.”

Smith’s presentation, the potential of her product and her track record as a tutor at Georgia Tech, where she took CETL classes to earn certification, added up to Brainstream becoming a vital industry when the nation shut down because of Covid-19.

Already familiar with Smith from her days as a GTAA tutor, Tech athletics saw the need.

“This really would not have been possible if not for our entire world changing in March ‘20 and going virtual,” said Breen. “We basically had two weeks to change our entire tutoring services — from in-person — every session was in person — to every session being virtual. So with that change in process, it allowed us to get creative and just knowing Jaeiza, when she was a student, she was one of our best tutors, she went through our training, she knew the expectations from an NCAA integrity standpoint, a Georgia Tech integrity standpoint. It felt like it could be a great solution for our needs. They were able to fill, not only with the best Georgia Tech students, they recruited the best students everywhere.”

“In the remote, virtual environment, it became apparent that hiring tutors in a timely manner was becoming increasingly difficult,” said LaBaw. “We knew there were some priority courses that we just weren’t getting ample supply of tutors. Jaeiza was a tutor of ours in one of the most difficult courses to find a tutor for, which was the EAS (earth and atmospheric science) classes. I remembered watching her Create-X presentation. I thought, ‘What a great idea, this online tutoring program and tutoring service!’ Chris was great at kind of putting two and two together and saying, ‘Let’s reach out to them.’”

Smith is excited to continue tutoring Georgia Tech current and even former athletes.

“I was tutoring a whole lot of volleyball players one semester ,so I went to some of their matches. It was kind of crazy how good, how incredible our athletes are,” she said. “It’s just really cool to hear them say, ‘Oh, I got an A or a B’ or ‘I can pass,’ ‘Oh, I don’t have to worry about this class,’ ‘Finals are less stressful.’ That’s really rewarding for me.

“I actually tutored some professional players that came back to get their degree,” she added. “That was one of the cool experiences I had. That’s how great GTAA is. Even if you leave, you can still come back and get your degree because academics is important.”

While the Institute’s stress of academics is consistent, the academic world is constantly changing. Introducing virtual learning and virtual tutoring required careful vetting of Brainstream and assurance it would uphold Georgia Tech-level standards.

“Confidence that you can execute in integrity has always been the concern with online tutoring,” Breen said. “That’s always been a hesitation. When March hit, Phyllis and I were in on almost every single tutoring session as a monitor when we initially went virtual. We wanted to be confident in the process from an integrity standpoint. Once we gained confidence that we have trained our tutors, they understood the expectations, then we could expand out and add new opportunities. That’s really where the Brainstream opportunity came from.”

With a client as prestigious as Georgia Tech athletics already in the fold, Brainstream is looking to expand into new opportunities.

“We’ve talked to different colleges. We want to expand the services we’re offering for more colleges and more individuals,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of moving parts because the education system is changing rapidly along with tutoring. You never know what’s going to change in the future but we’re constantly expanding, constantly trying to adjust to all the change.

“We are open to working with different schools and organizations,” Smith added. “We definitely pay attention to news and also get information from our clients and parents about different changing things going on in the education industry.”

As Brainstream seeks new partners, Georgia Tech athletics is pleased to be a test kitchen for a start-up founded and operated by a Tech grad.

“We would fully support other partnerships with Brainstream, whether it be that school in Athens or Georgia State, whomever,” said LaBaw. “At the post-secondary level I think they could be extremely profitable. Any sort of weakness that our student-athletes may have, we want to make sure that we have support in place and immediately provide that to them. We feel very good about bringing Brainstream’s support of that at this point.”

“We don’t know where we’re going to go in the future but virtual learning, virtual tutoring is always going to be part of our program,” said Breen. “We now have this in our back pocket because we have confidence in it.”

The Institute’s confidence in Brainstream reflects well on Create-X, which will continue to be on the lookout for the next great idea.

“It’s really one of the most rewarding things to be able to just work with students at an early stage in their career and give them a toolset and watch them execute so well in building a business,” said Saxena. “We know that this is definitely putting them on a different career path and hopefully a very rewarding career path that they really would not have tried if Create-X wasn’t there.”

“It goes back to the Create-X program. We promote the Create-X program to all of our incoming students as part of our transition programs, our continuing students,” said LaBaw. “To have Brainstream come out of the Create-X program was even more phenomenal in regards to how this all came together. This whole virtual remote environment of providing academic support, you kind of lean on others who are also very attuned with that environment. That was a key attractiveness of Brainstream Tutoring. They had honed in on this before it was even an issue or before it became the norm now. They were ahead of the curve before the curve even came to us.”

Staying ahead of the curve and keeping up with demand is now the challenge.

“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “Making sure we have tutors to fulfill everybody’s strengths and weaknesses is really important for us. So we make sure if somebody needs help in something we have a tutor for that.”

For more information on Creative-X visit create-x.gatech.edu.

For more information on Brainstream Tutoring or to become a tutor visit brainstreamtutoring.com.

Alexander-Tharpe Fund

The Alexander-Tharpe Fund is the fundraising arm of Georgia Tech athletics, providing scholarship, operations and facilities support for Georgia Tech’s 400-plus student-athletes. Be a part of developing Georgia Tech’s Everyday Champions and helping the Yellow Jackets compete for championships at the highest levels of college athletics by supporting the A-T Fund’s Annual Athletic Scholarship Fund, which directly provides scholarships for Georgia Tech student-athletes, and Athletics Initiative 2020, Georgia Tech athletics’ ongoing $125 million initiative to allow Tech to recruit the nation’s most elite student-athletes, build a better student-athlete once they arrive on The Flats and, ultimately, win! To learn more about supporting the Yellow Jackets, visit atfund.org.   

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