Combining the Power of Community and Technology to Help Students Succeed
Q&A: Katy Kappler, Co-Founder, Inscribe, Winner of Los Angeles #InvestInWomen Pitch Competition Hosted by ECMC Foundation and Chloe Capital
February 14, 2020
By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation
In the late 90s, three friends met at eCollege, an emerging online learning company serving the higher education market.
Working side-by-side, Katy Kappler, Ana Hernandez and Matt Self helped eCollege grow to a platform that reached hundreds of thousands of students and delivered millions of minutes of online learning each year. The team saw, first hand, the power of technology to reach a diverse set of students and to make learning more accessible for all learners, especially those from underserved backgrounds.
After more than two decades, they decided to leverage their knowledge and experience to create their own brainchild, InScribe, which launched two years ago. This AI-enabled platform helps students navigate postsecondary education by creating a space for them to connect with peers and experts to ask questions, find answers and share ideas.
In late 2019, at ECMC Foundation and Chloe Capital’s Future of Work and Education pop-up accelerator competition in Los Angeles, Inscribe co-founder Katy Kappler won $150,000 to support the enhancement of the app’s artificial intelligence capabilities. The Los Angeles event is part of a national trilogy of #InvestInWomen pitch competitions taking place between October 2019 and May 2020 in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Charlotte, NC.
We spoke to Katy to learn more about her team’s motivation behind the app’s creation, what it does, and what’s next for the young edtech company.
Tell us the inspiration/motivation behind the Inscribe app? What is your story that led to its inception and creation?
My co-founders and I met in the late 90s while working at eCollege, one of the early learning management platforms in higher education. At the time, it was the only Learning Management System (LMS) that really targeted the emerging online learning market. We were lucky to work at the forefront of this digital education movement, and recognized the power of technology to democratize access to learning for a much broader demographic of students.
At the same time, working with higher education institutions and learners gave us an up-close understanding of the challenges that non-traditional students face when they get to school. Students who are first generation or from underserved communities, can often feel isolated and unsure of how to navigate the complicated education system.
We were inspired to build a digital space that would allow students of all types and backgrounds to connect with each other and with their institutions in new and novel ways. Our goal is to help students break through the uncertainty and insecurity so they can quickly find their footing and succeed in school.
What does the Inscribe app do? What critical role/gap does it play in postsecondary education?
There is so much information thrown at students during college. Not just in the classroom, but also in terms of feeling prepared to succeed in school and planning for a transition to career. Taken altogether, it can be incredibly overwhelming. InScribe makes this all easier to navigate by creating digital communities that connect students with their peers and with the experts on campus. Students can turn to their community when they need help and ask questions in a safe space that is available anytime and anywhere they need it. Moreover, the answers they receive are tagged and stored, so each generation of students can learn and benefit from the conversations that came before.
Your app focuses on students from underserved backgrounds at online institutions and community colleges — why this population?
If you are a traditional student at a four-year institution, you are more likely to have the time and the network to help you navigate the complexity of higher education. But, the vast majority of students that InScribe serves are what many would call “non-traditional”. They are first generation students; they are working while they are in school; and they are parents of young children. This population doesn’t have the luxury of time or — in some cases experience — to connect with the help they need when they need it. InScribe offers these students access to a 24/7, holistic support model that works with their schedule and their needs.
What’s your favorite part of working at Inscribe?
Without question, it’s the students. Seeing them connect with each other and hearing about the impact we are having on their educational experience — that’s what gets us up in the morning.
A great example comes from a woman who was a member of one of our most active math communities. She was a stay-at-home mom, whose children were getting older. She went back to school with the goal of returning to work as an elementary math teacher. When we spoke with her, she told us that while her coursework gave her the tools to pass the test, it was the conversations and insights she gained from InScribe that allowed her to truly understand the concepts of math and have the confidence that she could teach them to someone else. It’s that next level of understanding and engagement that we want all students to be able to achieve.
In 5 or 10 years, what do you hope Inscribe will have accomplished?
Our ultimate wish is that Inscribe becomes the trusted name that every student can turn to when they need help. Our goal is to be in every college and university in the United States, and to have expanded to supporting high school students and international students around the world.
We also believe that InScribe can make a tangible impact on the cost of education. By giving institutions a way to offer high quality, highly scalable support, we hope to help them reach more students, more effectively, without the need to hire more resources. A cost savings that should be passed directly on to the students we all serve.