UWS professor launches tutoring platform for displaced Ukrainian students

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According to UNICEF, more than half of Ukraine’s children have been displaced since the Russian invasion began. That means their education has been interrupted.

When the war started, Michael Waxman, a chemistry and physics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, felt a little helpless.

"And then when I thought about it more, I just asked my wife, ‘Sophia, should I maybe try to offer my tutoring services?’ And she said, ‘Yes, yes. I think you should.’"

In March, he posted on a few Facebook pages, offering to tutor students in chemistry, physics, or math.

"I was amazed to have 400 likes on one of them," Waxman chuckled. "Never happened in my life before."

Right away, he had a few takers.

One of his first students had fled Kyiv to a village outside of Nizhyn, Ukraine. Dr. Waxman remembers telling the student to go into Nizhyn to pick up a textbook, but the student said no because there was street fighting there. The seriousness of the situation set in.

A couple of weeks into the tutoring, the student’s mother, who is a professional psychologist, sent Waxman a message saying that her son had been in a bad state after leaving Kyiv.

"He couldn’t sleep, he was shaking at every noise," he said, "But she told, ‘Once you started teaching him, tutoring him, he absolutely changed. He became his old self.’"

He said that message had a profound impact.

"Look, I am not a great instructor. I know my limitations. I am an average instructor, I would say," Waxman said. "And if I could reach such a change that a professional psychologist could not, then thousands of my colleagues throughout this country could reach pretty much the same thing."

So the effort grew. He asked Vitaliy Vanchurin, a former UMD professor who is now with the National Institutes of Health, to help. They created "Tutoring Without Borders," an online platform that connects interested Ukrainian students with tutors.

"This is a totally new experience for me. And I am enjoying every minute of it," Waxman said.

Around 150 tutors are now working with 400 students between 1st grade and college.

"As my friend Vitaliy keeps saying, the greatest advantage of our little free enterprise, so to say, is that we do not offer any degrees. We do not offer any diplomas," Waxman said. "The only kids who are taking it are those who want to learn."

He takes requests from students, who let him know which subject they want to study, then he matches them with a tutor.

The two areas they need the most help with now are language and geography. Waxman says it is incredibly rewarding.

"One of the kids messaged me before the class: ‘Dr. Waxman, you know, it’s still an hour to wait until your class. I just don’t know how to wait that long.’ You know, I am a professor for 30 years. And never, ever has a single student messaged me anything like that," he said.

A native of Siberia, Waxman has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. But he said his own history with Russia doesn’t seem to bother his students.

"To begin with, I announce to them that I am not Russian. I am a pure Jew," he said. "Basically, I explain to them that I didn’t live there for 30 years. I have nothing to do with Russia."

He plans to keep the online classroom open as long as it’s needed.

"I am unbelievably happy since I started this thing. Even though I am not getting any money from it, it is worth every minute of my time."

Click here to visit TutoringWithoutBorders.org.