Growing up in South Bend, Indiana, I always enjoyed math. I initially focused on sports, but once I realized that I had more talent and fun with math, I leaned into it by self-studying MIT's undergraduate math/physics curricula. I also worked at Mathnasium on evenings and weekends and did some science fair projects in experimental physics.
In 2014 I received a full ride to Notre Dame, majoring in mathematics, and became obsessed with modeling the human brain as a weighted directed graph. This led to some fun, but not particularly fruitful, research projects. During my first year I worked on a bottom-up approach that became intractable beyond simple cases, and I spent the following summer in Los Alamos working on a top-down approach attempting to produce biologically realistic brain waves using spiking neurons in a deep neural network. I got the sense that brain modeling was not a great problem to devote my life to.
During my second year (2015-16) I interned as a data scientist at Aunalytics while taking a variety of grad classes across pure and applied math. I ended up losing interest in academia and turning my focus towards working full-time at Aunalytics while finishing up my degree. (I was pretty much done with classes at this point and just had to take a handful of electives, which I spread out from 2016-17.) My main projects centered on churn prediction and exploratory analyses in financial services / digital news / general subscription services.
At some point I realized that quantitative modeling was most valuable when paired with domain expertise, and although I was grateful to have broken into data science so early, I wasn't excited by the conventional problem domains. I was only excited by tutoring and music production, and it was unclear how to leverage mathematical modeling in either domain. But it was clear that tutoring could keep me afloat, and that it was easy to find clients in big cities. LA was the obvious choice since it's where my girlfriend (now fiancé) Sanjana was studying.
After graduating from Notre Dame at the end of 2017 I moved to LA and took on scattered work in math education: tutoring, teaching high school and test prep, developing content for math websites, and even writing several textbooks for fun. I also picked up a master's in computer science from Georgia Tech (it was only $7k, so, duh!). Gradually, all my work converged at the same organization, Math Academy, a highly accelerated 6-12th grade math program where 8th graders took AP Calculus BC and high schoolers studied a full undergraduate math curriculum. Math Academy was founded by Jason and Sandy Roberts and ran on top of educational software built by Jason, a serial entrepreneur who wanted to create and commercialize the ultimate online math learning system.
I got involved at the core of Math Academy's software during the summer of 2019. At that time, the software had existed for several years as a tool that Math Academy instructors used to create and grade assignments -- they would manually select problems from the database (which contained a mountain of content written by Math Academy's team of PhD mathematicians), students would complete the problems online for homework, and the software would automatically grade the assignments and keep track of each student's grades. But Jason had his sights set on the holy grail of self-service learning, and he asked me to develop an algorithm that would automatically assign personalized learning tasks while leveraging effective learning techniques like mastery learning, spaced repetition, and interleaving. By the end of summer the project was a success, upgrading the software from a manual assignment creation tool to a fully automated and personalized learning system that could effectively support independent learners (without any teacher).
We kept iterating on it, year after year:
- During the 2019-20 school year, we started out with a single independent learner, a student who was previously in Math Academy and had moved to another state. She learned AP Calculus BC using only the system (i.e. no external help) and got a 5 on the AP exam.
- At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, I moved in with Jason and his family to quarantine, which led to a makeshift startup incubator experience run out of his living room. We worked every waking hour, well into the night, every day including weekends, so that by the end of summer we were ready to run entire school classes on the automated system.
- During the 2020-21 school year and COVID-19 pandemic, the automated system proved to be significantly more effective than traditional remote instruction, and by spring 2021 nearly all of Math Academy's school classes were running on it.
- During the 2021-22 school year, even after school was back in person, we reached the point that the system was 4x as efficient as traditional in-person classes covering the same material. Seemingly impossible things started happening like some 6th graders progressing all the way from prealgebra to AP Calculus BC in a single year.
- During the 2022-23 school year, we put up a website at mathacademy.com and grew to hundreds of commercial users.
Over these years I simultaneously did a lot of work with Math Academy's school program, including developing what was, during its operation from 2020-23, the most advanced high school math/CS sequence in the USA. In these courses I scaffolded high school students up to doing masters/PhD-level coursework (reproducing academic research papers in artificial intelligence, building everything from scratch in Python).
During the summer of 2023 I left the school program and relocated to Boston, where I continue to work on our product in full force.