Campus & Community

In Creating Hoboken Tutoring Service, a Lesson in Managing the Unexpected

Students developing Stevens Connect pose outside the high-tech finance lab in the Babbio Center at Stevens.
The Stevens Connect team is building a service to connect tutors at the university with Hoboken students in need. From left, Nur Amirah Rahim, Torrance Burnes, Richard Simon, Bianca Caseiro and Latiffa Alia Abd Razak.

Learning to cope with the unexpected is a key part of a Stevens business education. So when the team behind Stevens Connect found out it would cost north of $100,000 to develop the website for their business concept, they didn’t waste any time finding a new way to showcase their work for the Innovation Expo.

Stevens Connect aspires to be a link between Stevens students and the Hoboken community. It aims to connect tutors at Stevens with parents and students in the city, to bring high-quality, enriching education to locals. Bianca Caseiro, a student on the team, credited Dr. Ann Murphy, dean of the undergraduate division at the business school, with the idea for the project.

“She felt Stevens had the potential and the resources to create a service that would cater to the demand here in Hoboken,” Caseiro said. “And I realized that with a team of smart kids who were passionate about it, this was something we could create that would make a difference.”

Torrance Burnes, another student on Stevens Connect, said he saw the benefits a Stevens tutor could bring to the younger generation while doing service as a member of the lacrosse team.

“We’d go down to the schools and do a lesson with the kids,” Burnes said. “It improved not only our image as a lacrosse team, but also the image of Stevens in the community, to have 45 guys from the team going down there and teaching three or four classes. And you could see the impact — the kids really responded to having a younger tutor, a role model they could relate to.”

For the Innovation Expo, to be held April 29, the team planned to build a website to advertise Stevens students and their specialties to Hoboken parents. The design had to be simple, said student Nur Amirah Rahim, to ensure the target audience could relate; “we don’t know how savvy some of the parents are,” she said.

But a web developer wanted a six-figure payment to build out the site beyond the wireframes the team created. So instead, they’re plugging the wireframes into public software that will allow their tool to have limited functionality at the expo, said team member Richard Simon.

“We researched a lot of ideas, like an Uber-style automatic payment system,” Simon said. “If we were to build it out, we’d use a model like that. Ideally, it’s an app, and you pay from your phone, but that’s much harder to build.”

But the team’s lack of computer science skills has not hindered them, Simon said.

“We’ve played to our strengths in business, in knowing how to take technology and incorporate it into our business model,” he said.

Strength in diversity

Another strength for the team is Stevens’ diversity. Stevens Connect team members have different specialties in technology, marketing, finance and the like, and two students — Rahim and Latiffa Alia Abd Razak — are from Malaysia, a country where tutoring is not widely available. That brought an interesting perspective to the team’s market research.

“My idea of a tutoring service is completely different from theirs — they have a blank slate,” Caseiro said. “That added value and made us think about how this has to cater to a lot of people who think differently and want different things.”

It also helps in a city with Hoboken’s diversity.

“Doing this in Hoboken, it’s a priority for us,” Caseiro said. “It’s our home, we live here and work here. It was important to us to do something to give back and make us feel involved. That’s what the senior design process should be about.”

That process is also about the culmination of years of studying finance, marketing, economics and business law, which played a big role in preparing the students for Stevens Connect.

“Consumer Research, with Professor (Adriana) Madzharov, really helped us picture our target market and better segment it, and understand how consumers will respond to what they need or want,” Burnes said.

Caseiro agreed. “That class really breaks things down to the point where you think, well, this is so obvious,” she said. “But as we move ahead with Stevens Connect, it all resonates for me — we have to do this, we have to do that — it’s almost like a checklist for us.”

In the summer, Simon and Caseiro will move on to jobs at JP Morgan, Burnes heads to a sales position with MarkIt’s managed services division, and Abd Razak and Rahim return to Malaysia to pursue careers of their own. But they hope they’re laying the groundwork for a project that creates lasting impact in Hoboken.

“I just want people to see what it’s going to do and what it’s going to look like,” Caseiro said. “It’s going to help kids here in Hoboken, it’s going to help parents and families, and the students here at Stevens.”