Duke students: These college buddies think their website will help you study

Duke students: These college buddies think their website will help you study

Motee cofounders hope their new app, launching at Duke in late August, will help students study better -- with the help of other students.

Above, Motee founders Erika Williamson and Paul Mosca brainstorm with a whiteboard table in The Frontier co-working space in Research Triangle Park. They plan on launching a website to help college students connect with each other to study in late August. Photo courtesy of Paul Mosca.

It’s a problem many college students have faced — being stumped on an assignment and having to search out classmates, a teaching assistant or even an elusive professor to get a passing grade.

Triangle natives and college friends Erika Williamson, 45, and Paul Mosca, 47, are trying to make it easier for students to find help with their website moteeapp.com, which they hope to launch at Duke University in late August when students are starting the fall semester.

Students can register for free with their college email address and connect with other users at their college to study together, tutor or be tutored (students pay through PayPal, and Motee takes a cut). A student from any college can sign up, but the developers are focusing on growing a Motee network at Duke.

What sets their site apart from tools like the app StudyRoom is that Williamson and Mosca highlight encouraging others — something that’s important but often neglected, they learned from interviewing college students and professors.

“They confirmed that those moments of frustration can really add up, and they can lead to people dropping classes, switching majors or even leaving school,” Williamson said. “Our idea for Motee is hoping to help students avoid getting to that point.”

Williamson and Mosca also referenced a May article in The Atlantic about a study claiming that female engineers with female mentors are more likely to stick with their major, not because they get better grades, but because they know it’s possible for them to reach their goals.

It all connects to the idea that academic success is a combination of head and heart, Motee’s developers said, and they’re banking on the hope that college students will want to encourage one another. A user can send public “motee” messages to another student complimenting him or her on anything from a question asked in class to how helpful they were as a tutor.

A mock “motee,” or message of encouragement, on moteeapp.com, a site designed to help college students connect to study together. The site’s creators hope to launch next month. Photo courtesy of Erika Williamson.

“When people send you a motee, they can put in hashtags like #greatatcalculus,” Williamson said. “When it comes time to form a study group or look for a peer tutor, it’s easy to find people who are good in the areas that you’re wanting to connect with.”

Mosca wishes he’d had Motee when he was trying to go to medical school in 2005. An English literature major from Greensboro’s Guilford College (where he and Williamson met), he was working full-time while trying to take the few college classes he needed as prerequisites to study medicine.

Biology was a breeze, but chemistry was not. Mosca tried to juggle work and his classes at N.C. State, spending hours at the chemistry lab but not getting the help he needed from the teaching assistant, who usually had to split time between 30-plus students.

“Today, I am not a doctor, and I just stumbled over chemistry,” Mosca said. “Motee’s my way of trying to solve that problem.”

Working with software is nothing new to Williamson, who runs her own database consulting company called Small Biz TLC. She and Mosca, who are bootstrapping Motee, call themselves Protagonist Lab and work out of The Frontier co-working space in Research Triangle Park.

They reconnected over LinkedIn in 2016 and soon were talking about creating something that would help college students. From August to October, Williamson and Mosca interviewed students from schools like N.C. Central, UNC and more. Online study tools didn’t cut it, many of the students said.

“People said you could stay up all night watching videos about calculus, but you wouldn’t retain it very well,” Williamson said. “If you’re working through problem sheets with a friend, you learn it a lot better.”

After a few months planning the site, they were ready to start creating it with help from hired programmers in February. Now they’re almost ready to launch, and even Williamson’s 14-year-old twin daughters have helped.

“They’ve been really fun to bounce ideas off of, and they’ve been interested too in the idea that you can build something,” she said. “You can just decide for yourself one day that you want to create something new, and you can go do it.”

Williamson’s daughters aren’t ready for college quite yet, but she wants them and other students not to be afraid to challenge themselves academically.

“Take hard classes,” she said. “Don’t be afraid that your GPA is going to fall. When you get out in the real world, no one cares what your GPA is, unless you’re trying to apply to a really rigorous or competitive grad school. … You’re going to learn so much, and then when you do get out in the real world, you’ll be that person in your workplace that people turn to.”

She and Mosca hope students in those difficult classes will turn to Motee and perhaps make some new connections on campus. After all, a couple of classes at Guilford College is what brought Motee’s creators together.

“Your friends are going to be those people who come back over the years after college,” Williamson said. “Those are the people you can get jobs from or get jobs with or start businesses with. … You never know, so it’s all about making those connections and having true, authentic relationships.”

Evie Fordham

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