Jinglin Li

The teacher in the living room
U of M student Jinglin Li breaks down educational barriers by bringing virtual volunteer tutors to students in need.

Jinglin Li was a high school junior when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She adjusted well to remote learning, but noticed that her elementary-age siblings were challenged by the sudden shift out of the classroom and onto a screen.

“I knew if my siblings were struggling, other students and families had to be struggling, too,” says Li, a second-year student studying computer science in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

That’s where Living Room Tutors comes in. Li decided to launch a web-based tutoring service, born out of the pandemic, for students from kindergarten through grade 12. The idea was straightforward: students in need of tutoring would be matched with volunteer educators and receive one-on-one instruction every week. A crucial differentiator? All tutoring services would be free.

“Tutoring is a valuable, effective intervention for the educational trajectories of students; it doesn’t make sense that only a limited number of students can access it,” she says. “I wanted Living Room Tutors to be as accessible as possible.”

Li found her first group of 10 to 15 tutors by reaching out to friends and classmates at her Rochester, Minnesota, high school. The program grew quickly from there, mostly by word of mouth. Now, Living Room Tutors serves hundreds of students, with tutors and students from across the country taking part in the program. “It’s a mutually beneficial exchange,” she says.

In addition to her work with Living Room Tutors and her studies at the U of M, Li has been involved with programs designed to improve access to education for underserved students. For example, last year she acted as a mentor to high school students from historically underrepresented identities in the STEM field.

This year she’s working as a community advisor in her residence hall, a role that allows her to help fellow students navigate the college experience. In addition to taking a full class load, she also plays on the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and is a member of the Society for Women Engineers.

A recipient of the U of M Presidential Scholarship, the Cargill thrive Scholarship, the Johnson Brothers Scholarship in Entrepreneurship, and the Ecolab Scholars Program Scholarship, Li acknowledges how donor gifts have helped her balance this busy schedule.

“I’m grateful for the generosity of these various scholarship programs,” she says. “They have alleviated a great deal of the financial pressure of college.”

She also enjoys the career-building opportunities associated with her Cargill thrive Scholarship. “We meet every other Monday and take part in leadership development activities,” she says. “It’s great to meet the other recipients and learn from each other.”

Li is enthusiastic about the variety of career opportunities available to computer science majors. “Computers and computer models present many opportunities to address major global problems,” she says. “The unknown of how computation could change the world motivates me to be a part of the exploration and discovery of new technologies.”

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