NICK JOHNSON AND ANUPA KOTPOYINA
Study Edge is a prime example of a Gator-grown business, through and through. It has helped countless students over the last few years pass classes, from Financial Accounting to Organic Chemistry. It is a local staple, beloved by UF students from all walks of life. However, few know that Study Edge’s founder, Ethan Fieldman, is a former UF Honors student and a UF alumnus! Prism Staff members Nick Johnson and Anupa Kotipoyina sat down with Mr. Fieldman to discuss the origins of Study Edge, as well as some future goals that Study Edge aims to achieve.
Q: What was your experience in the UF Honors program like?
A: I graduated 2003, and back then the Honors program didn’t have as many requirements. It’s grown to be something much more exciting. I’m really jealous of Hume, because there was no honors dorm when I attended. I liked living on the honors floor of Weaver Hall — it was great. It helped make a big university smaller, and I still have a core group of old honors friends. One of my favorite memories is MudFest sophomore year. Back then, it was really physical and really competitive. Even though we were the “honors” team, we had a bunch of really big guys on our team. We ended up being the first honors team to win the main event.
Q: Many members of your staff are former honors students. Is that a coincidence or is there something behind that correlation?
A: 90% of full time tutors at Study Edge are former honors students. Study Edge looks for creative, hardworking people, the cool nerds at UF, because they have to be fun and exciting on camera. The Honors program happens to look for similar qualities. It’s not something a candidate needs to have, but we give preferential treatment to honors students, and it’s definitely something someone should put on their resume if they want an internship or job.
We’re always hiring students, and currently have over 100 students working for us part time. We also have this really cool internship opportunity in the fall to help us with the real life 101 course. You can get one or two credits from the Honors program for it, and we’re working with them to make it the best internship, with credit, pay, and experience. We go through real life topics that aren’t taught in college, like taxes, health care programs, how to buy a house, and other stuff you need to know after you graduate. For example, we did this really great video with Dr. Emma Humphries from the Bob Graham Center for Public Service where she explains the difference between a primary and a caucus. It’s three minutes and it’s really funny. We take videos from our internship and put them up for free to watch.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how Study Edge started or some of your inspirations?
A: I was a National Merit Scholar, so UF gave me what seemed like a lot of money, but I was having a lot of fun and didn’t realize how fast it could run out. I would explain material for class to friends in the library and sometimes people asked if they could sit and listen. I got the idea to save time by having a crowd of people. I printed a bunch of flyers from Target Copy advertising a review for the next managerial accounting exam for an optional five-dollar fee at a room in my fraternity house. 110 people showed up. The next time, I charged ten dollars, 300 people came, and I made $3000 cash.
As a company, our inspiration is really to do what students want.
Q: How has your college experience influenced the Study Edge model? Did you take any weed out courses?
A: I might be getting philosophical here, but the problem with weed out courses is that the professor cannot be on your side. They have a set number of people who can pass and who can fail so that there aren’t too many people in the major. They know exactly what is on the exam, but they have to hold back on what they can tell you, because they have to be on the side of the exam. You can’t have a situation where everyone does well and learns and gets a good grade. I don’t think professors should write their own exam. It’s like banks regulating themselves. For example, high school students taking Algebra 1 have to take an end of course exam written by a company contracted by the state of Florida. Teachers do everything they can to teach what is on the test. They’re on the side of the student. If we had nationwide exams, we would be able to know how UF students are doing in their courses in comparison to students at other universities. Also, what bothers me is that different professors will teach different concepts even though they teach the same course. So students in the same course with different professors can’t study together and don’t learn the same stuff, even though they both need the course. Professors should really work together to design courses and write exams.
Q: What are some of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of your job?
A: We’ve had a lot of opportunities to collaborate and big companies will come to us. The College of Education at UF reached out to us and we created Algebra Nation, which is a free platform to help students and teachers with the end of course Algebra 1 exam. Over a quarter of a million students use it.
The people who work here are cool and I get to come in and hang out with friends. It’s fun. The only days I take off are home football games. We get a lot of thank-yous from students. We get appreciation and feedback from students, state legislators, and teachers. We keep prices down and aim to provide a high quality product. We’ll get parent emails a lot saying thanks. The fact that we have set memberships is really nice, because it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of money. Everyone gets the same best effort that we have. I like really like our pricing model and it’s gone really well. Nobody’s done a monthly membership model for tutoring before. Also, it’s a small company and there’s no board of directors. I can make decisions and our tutors make decisions. I like that we make a lot of changes every semester.