By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
What started out as merely a tutoring job has evolved into an endeavor that college student Alec Katz hardly dreamed was possible six months ago. It just goes to show that in today’s world, a spark of ingenuity can go a long way.
Katz, who grew up in the Palisades-Brentwood area playing soccer in AYSO Region 69, has always been passionate about aviation—so much so that he got his pilot’s license while still in high school at Harvard-Westlake. He began pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at Stanford and shared that he believes the sky’s the limit.
That’s when fate intervened: He is now the CEO of Curious Cardinals, which he co-founded with fellow Stanford student Audrey Wisch after their freshman year.
Their mission? To work with students to develop personalized learning models so they can discover and explore their passions in a setting that liberates them from the pressure of grades and other ranking systems.
“I started tutoring at the beginning of March,” said Wisch, who is from New York and majoring in history. “I wrote 20 or 30 families and started working with a student in New York and another in Los Angeles. Pretty soon it became a lot more than just assisting students with their homework.”
Wisch explained that she then started creating curriculum for the students, writing reading lists and podcasts.
“One of the moms asked if I could get her daughter off TikTok,” Wisch shared. “Then our sessions turned into something more meaningful because I was tapping into her passions. The mom asked if I could start tutoring her daughter in math and I said someone who’s really passionate about that subject should do that. So that’s where Alec came in.”
Katz noticed a disconnect right away.
“I started tutoring pretty conventionally in math but realized these students are so disengaged from the pandemic,” he recalled. “I noticed COVID was exacerbating all of the existing problems from schools. At the forefront of that is the way math is taught in elementary and middle school … it’s just so repetitious and boring. So I wanted to show real-life applications to the problems we were doing. I was working with the same student, who kept asking why are we learning this? And it made me ask myself, ‘Why isn’t physics taught with math at a young age?’”
Katz, Wisch and the other four members of the team—Cece King (head of mission alignment and communication); Montanna Riggs (head of diversity and social outreach); Ashwin Reddy (head of education and pedagogy); and Leila Orszag (head of operations)—are living together in a house in West Hollywood that they have named “The Cardinal Crib.”
“Alec and Audrey were looking for their most passionate friends to teach classes and had this brilliant idea to connect kids from across the world,” said King, a Dartmouth undergraduate who also edits the Curious Cardinals blog. “I taught a feminist history class over the summer, and when they wanted to take it to the next level, they asked me to join full-time.”
The Cardinals’ motto is “Stay Curious,” and they now have a website, an Instagram account, a Facebook page, 175 students from elementary to high school, and a staff of 70 teachers. They offer classes in a variety of disciplines: STEM, creative arts, humanities, politics, government and law, economics, and business.
While doing their Stanford classes online, Katz and Wisch started getting more referrals and decided to take a gap year to continue what they started.
“We agreed we should continue this and create a social network of passionate students where the only thing unifying them is a shared interest on a Zoom screen,” Wisch added. “We don’t proclaim to be experts on these subjects, but we can show a student what they’re interested in using engaging and challenging materials so they’re empowered to take agency over their educational journeys.”
Curious Cardinals offers a mentorship program that pairs elementary to high school students with a like-minded college student. Mentors collaborate with their pupils to develop a project, whether it be building a video game, recording an album, designing an airplane or starting a business.
They also offer online seminars of under 10 students, and their teachers are uniquely passionate about the curriculum they create. Classes include lectures, discussions, experiments and debates, and guest speakers include Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, feminist icon Liz Plank, representatives from The Innocence Project and Dean of UC Berkeley Law School Erwin Chemerinsky.
Wisch and student Ava Frankel were even interviewed on CNN in September. Wisch said that, so far, Curious Cardinals is self-funding and “we haven’t had to ask for a penny.” Asked if it has been worth it to delay graduation for one year she said yes and shared that she is adding education as a minor.
“Our tutors are close enough in age to their students that they can relate to their interests and academic struggles,” Katz said. “Tutors inspire our students by sharing their passions and showing them what they’re capable of achieving.”
To learn more about Curious Cardinals, visit curiouscardinals.com.
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