Ben Straus ’21 joined TikTok for the same reason most of the platform’s 1 billion users joined: to be entertained, follow popular influencers, and maybe pick up a few life hacks. Eventually, though, Straus began creating his own fun videos, and soon, the fourth-year biomedical engineering student decided to use his expertise to help middle school, high school, and college students around the world learn more about engineering.
“I realized that, in high school, I had very little knowledge of what engineering actually was,” says Straus. “In college, I’ve learned about the field, picked up many tricks, and made many study guides that students might find helpful.”
In late January, he knew he had struck on an idea that resonated with an audience after an initial short video announcing his first live session had been viewed more than 100,000 times and his account had gained more than 3,000 followers—all in fewer than 24 hours. So Straus started creating videos in which he answered questions his followers sent him about engineering, college life, and study tips, along with the quintessential dance or voiceover videos. One video attracted more than 900,000 views in nine hours.
He holds live TikTok “office hours” every Monday evening, during which Straus explains what biomedical engineers do, why he chose this field, what he plans to do after graduating, how he studies and keeps track of deadlines, how he stays motivated and organized, and more.
His TikTok following has now reached more than 125,000 people across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. “The growth has been exponential, and I hope it continues so that I can keep helping students,” says Straus.
With a solid following on TikTok, he decided to form an interactive learning community on Discord, a chat platform used by many students as a place to go to offer and receive homework and study assistance. Ranging from middle school to college-level students located around the world, the members of Straus’ Discord group comprise an open community that caters to different learning styles. Any member can post a question, and any member can answer it via text or live chat.
Straus graduated in May with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and he is beginning his career as a systems engineer at Medtronic in Minneapolis, but he plans to keep up his TikTok tutoring and even begin small-group sessions. “I have always found tutoring and mentoring to ‘feed my soul’ in a way, and I won’t stop after graduation,” he says.