ScioVirtual Resources

Free resources for enterprising students hoping to learn about STEM competitions such as Science Olympiad or simply expand their scientific knowledge, also featuring a ScioVirtual blog posting important updates, events, and various articles.

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12/30/2021

Blog

ScioVirtual's Origins

By

Victoria Li

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

        It was during Sciocamp 2021, when I was a camp counselor for the RedFoxes (the best team by the way)*, that I was asked about the beginnings of ScioVirtual. There seemed to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the organization, such as the founding date, ScioVirtual’s internal workings, and how the person who made a dedicated  superlative— ‘ the most satanic’— just for his aptly named camp team could be the co-founder. 

        As Sehej Bindra’s high school years drew to a close  in 2020, the number one thing he looked forward to was getting to teach at a local Science Olympiad-based summer camp. He explains that “Genuinely, I didn’t really care about stuff like Prom or [the] Disney [senior class trip].” Instead, it was the camp that held a strong importance for Bindra as “[his] whole experience of getting into science was due to attending the camp as a middle schooler [himself]. I really just wanted to round off my career in highschool, in WWPHSN, in science, by teaching at this camp again.” Unfortunately, Covid-19 was in full swing that summer, causing most in-person camps, including this one, to be shut down. 

        

        At first Binda was at a loss for what to do—“I remember going to my mom and telling her what happened and you know what she said? She asked me ‘Why don’t you make your own camp?’” It would be an exaggeration to call that question a major turning point, but it did sow the seeds  of an idea. As someone who was kind of a nerd with limited business and leadership experience, it was a completely unfathomable idea for Bindra at the time. But later during the night, he recalls that “I just remember laying in bed, the idea having been in the back of my head for most of the day, and I just could not sleep. I remember I kept thinking about this camp, and at 3 am I just took out a notebook, and sketched out, hypothetically, what this camp could be.” 

        

        The plan itself was actually incredibly thorough, including specific talents to recruit, ideas for advertising, and building legitimacy, and by morning, Bindra had a strong sense of motivation to carry his vision out. “The first thing I did upon waking up was I messaged Arvyn De (current Executive Director and co-founder of ScioVirtual), and he was just like ‘bet let’s do this.’” And with that authentic Gen Z response, ScioCamp took off. 

        One of the first things done after this point was to reach out to Josephine Wang (current Head of Design) to develop a website, logo, and advertisements. Something that must be kept in mind is that the ScioCamp of back then is incomparable to the ScioVirtual of now. Bindra elaborates that “The whole idea of Sciocamp was I’m graduating, I’m leaving, this was just a cool way to give back to the community.” As even after a successful first run of the camp, there were no plans to continue. It was only due to Wang and De’s insistence that ScioVirtual, an organization that ran year long instead of just in the summer, was born. ”Let’s make this thing big,” they had said, and numerous ideas and plans flowed from that point on, some more successful than others. 

        Of all of the ideas, “about 50% were implemented and only about 10% actually worked out.” Wang explains. Even with the foundation from ScioCamp, there were still a lot of aspects that needed to be laid out. With the camp, there was only nine days of each course, which limited how comprehensive they could be. That, and the issue of student to teacher ratio were the two main focuses when restructuring for ScioVirtual. De explains that “For year round we decided to make it 11 weeks instead and also because during camp, some classes reached 40 or 50 and expectedly we saw that it was harder to give individual attention. That prompted us to push for more 1 on 1 teaching.” 

        “There were also a lot of attemps for expansion,” says Wang. The marketing team started off emailing various organizations, any and every that they could think of to advertise and expand the reach of ScioVirtual. In the beginning, it was unclear what the best template or wording would be to acquire such partnership, so many variations of emails were drafted up and sent in an AB testing fashion. Most of the emails however, were completely ignored, even though it was very clear through Gmass that they had been opened and seen. “It was a little disheartening at first,” says De, “but we got used to it and just moved on to other things.”

        Perhaps this is when the lack of experience of the founding members in leading organizations can be most clearly seen. Bindra has mentioned that during ScioVirtual’s expansion “I was super focused on the numbers... like I’d check every day to see if there were new registrations, if so, how many, if there were any new teacher applications, the like.” That, coupled with the lack of structured processes that ScioVirtual had, such as a clear interview process for new teachers, lead to a loss of old students and dissatisfaction from previous patrons. Wang expands that “ScioCamp instructors were people we knew personally and could trust to run a good course and this was the first time we started accepting instructors we didn't personally know.” There were teachers with no credentials, who missed classes and showed up late, and since there was no quality check put into place, the executive directors were not privy to this fact until they received complaints from the parents and course reviews from the students. Wang adds that despite creating a “domain course manager role,” the ones who managed were also a “hit or miss” that often “didn’t do their job.” 

        “It was the worst feeling ever,” says Bindra “when we had so many students who said ‘you guys started off well but just couldn’t keep it up.’” It was a rookie mistake, for ScioVirtual to prematurely scale before getting a sturdy foundation. The consequences of focusing too heavily on marketing instead of improving the quality of the product was that there were those few teachers who didn’t do their job properly, costing ScioVirtual time, effort, and the reputation that was built up from camp. That’s why “the biggest thing about 2021 is that we’re not focusing on numbers at all,” proclaims Bindra, “but instead number one thing is that even if we only get 20 kids, we want to get all 20 of those kids to love what they’ve experienced.”

        ScioVirtual has come a long way from just being a temporary summer camp. The national reach, the numerous activities outside of clases and multitude of courses has created a misconception for many students about ScioVirtual’s existence. In actuality it’s only been a little more than a year since its founding, and hopefully those reading this will stick around for much more of the journey.

*editor's note: Spawns of Satan > RedFoxes

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