Homework Hotline Celebrates 10 Years of Free STEM Tutoring

Feb. 1, 2010 at 6:45 p.m., a group of students sat in an upstairs room in the Linde Activities Center with their headsets on, waiting for the phone lines to go live at 7 p.m. Matt Kweon ’13 says, “I don’t recall how much time had elapsed after going live, but I clearly remember the “beep” passing through my eardrums that immediately prompted me to say ‘Thank you for calling the Homework Hotline. My name is Matt, who am I speaking to?’”

Kweon took that first call, a question from an AP statistics student, and now, more than 30,000 calls later, Harvey Mudd College’s Homework Hotline celebrates 10 years of bringing math and science tutoring to area students in need and nurturing HMC mentor/leaders, some of whom are now pursuing teaching careers.

Modeled after the program at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Homework Hotline (1.877.827.5462) is a free, over-the-phone math and science tutoring service for students in grades 4 through 12. High-achieving Harvey Mudd students answer calls about math- and science-related questions from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, throughout the academic year. Tutors receive training to help them effectively communicate with callers, are equipped with books and materials from local school districts and have a drop box link so callers can upload materials if necessary.

“Students—regardless of location, financial means or accessibility to technological platforms—can benefit from access to high-quality tutoring,” says Gabriela Gamiz, director of community engagement.

HMC’s Homework Hotline tutors average 3,000 calls per academic year, providing service to students in 10 school districts in the Greater Los Angeles area, though calls have been received from as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, and Vancouver, Canada. The majority of calls to the hotline come from students in junior high and high school, with over 60% of callers requesting help in trigonometry, geometry or algebra.

Over the last 10 years, as the program has developed on campus, Harvey Mudd tutors have grown into a tight-knit squad.

“I’ve met so many amazing people through Homework Hotline. I love going to work each week to catch up with everyone,” says Martha Gao ’21, an engineering student who has worked as a tutor for six semesters. Vivian Lam ’22, a tutor for two semesters, adds, “I really enjoy meeting new people with a similar passion for helping others.”

Gamiz remarks that many of the student tutors say that because of their Homework Hotline experience, they feel more comfortable giving presentations or speaking about complex topics in their own areas of study.

Engineering alumnus Kweon found that Homework Hotline not only made him a more confident student; it influenced his career path. “Working as a Homework Hotline tutor has helped me realize what I am passionate about—teaching,” says Kweon, part of the initial group of tutors. He went on to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering at Northwestern University and to serve as a teaching assistant and guest lecturer. “Fast forward to today, I am currently developing my career path to become an industry expert while teaching at a local college/university as an adjunct professor.”

Xanda Schofield ’13, now an assistant professor of computer science at HMC, also connects her desire to become a teacher to her Homework Hotline experience.

“While I was only a Homework Hotline tutor for one semester, I still remember it as a pivotal moment in figuring out how excited I was to teach and to explore new ways of communicating about math to learners,” Schofield says. “It influenced my style not only as a computer science grutor (grader-tutor) in later years at Mudd but also in mentoring research students in my job as a professor.”

In 2020, a team of 39 HWHL tutors carries on the now decade-long tradition of mentoring STEM learners.

“Working at Homework Hotline is so much fun, and it’s really a job that doesn’t feel like work at all,” Gao says. “I decided to become a tutor because I love tutoring, hearing the moment a new concept makes sense to someone and sharing my love for STEM with other students.”

Toty Calvo ’21, a chemistry major, was drawn to becoming a Homework Hotline tutor through a lifelong interest in helping others. One of her most memorable calls was with a third-grader who was struggling with fractions. “I went through apples and pies and four different ways of trying to explain a fraction, and they still didn’t get it,” Calvo recalls. “But the fourth time, when it was about pizzas, they totally understood.”

At the end of the call, the student thanked Calvo and told her that she had explained it using different examples than those used in class, which was helpful. Calvo says, “That was the best compliment I got, and I will always remember that.”


FEBRUARY 2020 UPDATE: A challenge grant has been established to support Homework Hotline and help ensure its future. All donations (up to a total of $25,000) will be matched dollar-for-dollar. To learn more, contact Marcy Rodriguez, associate director of development, marodriguez@hmc.edu or 909.607.9139.