The Intersection of Science and Student Success

Partnering with researchers in education, psychology, behavioral science, and technology to develop strategies that improve student communication and outcomes.

Backed by research. Proven to work.

Mainstay partners with leading experts in 6 key areas of research to ensure we’re making an impact:

Behavioral economics

Sociology of education

Mindset science

Assessment and policy

Emotional intelligence

Workforce impact

Mainstay’s trusted research partners:

Aashir Nasim

Prairie View A&M

David Yeager

UT Austin

Evelyn Gosnel

Irrational Labs

Hunter Gehlbach

Johns Hopkins

Jim Runcie


Katharine Meyer

Brookings Institute

Lindsay Page

Annenberg Institute

Marc Brackett

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Mitchell Stevens

Mitchell Stevens

Pathways Lab at Stanford

Sara Nadel

Learning Collider

Tim Renick

Tim Renick


Vikki Walker


In an experiment with Irrational Labs, we discovered that students who received texts from Mainstay that said applying for FAFSA is part of their enrollment process were 3X more likely to apply for aid.

Behavioral Economics

Behavior-based outreach that works

Mainstay’s platform design is built on the science of behavioral economics. To infuse the most up-to-date strategies into our work, we’ve partnered with Irrational Labs, a training and consulting organization founded by Dan Ariely of Duke University.

Irrational Labs trains Mainstay in techniques like nudge theory, choice architecture, impact bias, social norms, and more. We use this information to create a “roadmap” that identifies psychological barriers to action and reduces friction at key barrier points. From there, we tap into the psychology of decision-making to drive change at scale.

Mindset Science

Supporting growth and improving resilience

The way you think about yourself can have a huge impact on success. And the right mindset can lead to better performance, increased happiness and healthier habits. That’s why we work with leading experts in mindset science — like Dr. David Yeager, a renowned developmental psychologist whose work focuses on understanding the factors that shape adolescent development.

By partnering with Dr. Yeager and other experts in mindset science, Mainstay is able to develop effective, customized programs that help people develop a growth mindset, build resilience, and achieve their goals. 

Emotional Intelligence

Connecting with people on their own terms

People make decisions based on their emotions. Unless we establish an emotional connection, nudges and reminders won’t drive meaningful change. Our partnership with Dr. Marc Brackett and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence underpins our messages that resonate with people on an emotional level. 

We draw upon Dr. Brackett’s groundbreaking studies on how emotions impact learning, decision-making, relationship quality, and mental health to drive action at key milestones. And through our work with The Partnership for Education Advancement, we ensure that the conversations we have with students are timely, meaningful, and relevant to them. 

  • See how Mainstay puts empathy and emotional intelligence into action

Sociology of Education

Insight built on collaboration and innovation

Mainstay continually seeks partnerships that bring unique perspectives and insights to our work. That’s why we are proud to partner with Dr. Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor and Organizational Sociologist with experience in educational sequences, lifelong learning, and alternative educational forms.

Dr. Stevens is currently leading a study with us in California, where we are working to test sentiment, adoption, and expansion of chatbot use on two college campuses. By tapping into his expertise in organizing knowledge, we ensure that Mainstay’s campaigns leverage the latest research and best practices.

Spotlight on Mainstay’s RCT partners:

Lindsay Page, Brown University

Dr. Lindsay Page is a quantitative methods expert who evaluates the effectiveness of educational policies and programs across all levels of education. Recently, much of her focus has been on large-scale RCTs that aim to combat the issue of "summer melt." Dr. Page has led many research studies that continue to shape Mainstay’s communications calendar and improve the effectiveness of our messages.

Hunter Gehlbach, Johns Hopkins University School of Education

Dr. Gehlbach is an esteemed partner in our RCT work, bringing his expertise as an educational psychologist and a passion for social psychology. He is focused on enhancing the social and motivational environments of schools, and is currently a Professor and Faculty Lead of the PhD program at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, as well as the Director of Research at Panorama Education.

Katharine Meyer, Brookings Institute

Dr. Meyer's research revolves around helping individuals make informed decisions about their postsecondary education opportunities. Her current work delves into supporting college retention and completion through virtual advising, analyzing the impact of school counselors on college access, and designing effective state financial aid programs. Mainstay has had the privilege of collaborating with Katherine on several crucial research studies.

Impact Assessment and Policy

The science of success

At Mainstay, we’re committed to making a positive impact on students and employees — and the only way to do that is by knowing what works, what doesn’t, and why.

That’s why Mainstay partners with institutions across the country to conduct Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) that study the impact and efficacy of our messages.

With the help of our research partners, we conduct rigorous and valuable research that provides insights into the impact and effectiveness of our messages — helping us continually improve outcomes for students and employees.

Insights from our latest research studies

Randomized Controlled Trials continually demonstrate how Mainstay’s timely, personalized support increases the likelihood that students will succeed — in and out of the classroom.

reduction in summer melt
increase in the likelihood of getting B or higher
of students recommend the chatbot
more likely to register for fall semester early

Workforce Impact

Lighting the path to opportunity

Mainstay is committed to expanding opportunities for young people. We support this mission by partnering with experts like Dr. Sarah Nadel, COO of The Learning Collider — a collaborative research lab dedicated to building equitable workplaces and career pathways through tech-driven research and data. 

By leveraging Dr. Nadel’s expertise and The Learning Collider’s research, Mainstay can design more effective solutions that promote equity and access and address the challenges young people face in accessing workforce opportunities.

Breaking through student success barriers

There’s a reason Georgia State University has had over 500 campuses come to look at their student success programs: when schools want to make a real difference, they look to innovative leaders in the field. 

Dr. Tim Renick is one of those leaders. As Executive Director of The National Institute for Student Success (NISS), he has partnered with colleges and universities across the country to help them identify their own institutionally created barriers to student success and introduce evidence-based methods of removing those barriers.

Mainstay partners with Tim Renick and NISS to identify and understand institutional-created barriers to completion and implement large-scale, data-based interventions to support positive student outcomes. 

  • Redesigning Universities for More Equitable Outcomes

“The lessons learned by Georgia State are transferable. While American higher education was not designed to produce equitable outcomes, we now have the power to redesign our campuses to provide timely, individualized support to all students. As Georgia State University has shown over the past decade, the results can be transformative.”

– Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director NISS, EdScoop

The SPARK behind it all

Emotions are a powerful force in decision-making. That’s why nudges alone don’t work. Mainstay’s messages connect with people and guide them through their options, instead of just telling them what to do. And we ensure we’re making an impact by gathering direct feedback from learners and evolving our approach over time. 

The key is our SPARK coaching model:

Change happens when people feel understood. Mainstay builds the trust needed to help learners take action. 

Engaging with learners before challenges escalate. Mainstay anticipates needs and offers timely support to encourage students to stay on track and to ward off potential setbacks.

Empowering students to make their own decisions. Mainstay fosters autonomy by providing tools and resources that help learners make informed choices relevant to their academic and personal development.

Encouraging students to rethink situations positively. Mainstay aids in building resilience by helping learners see challenges as opportunities for growth.

Clarity is key. Mainstay ensures that all messages are concise, clear, and to the point, removing barriers to understanding and action, thus boosting the likelihood of student engagement and success.

Proven solutions that drive real results

When you want to achieve your most ambitious goals, you need an approach built on rigorous, ongoing research and backed by real-world outcomes. That’s why over 225 institutions partner with Mainstay. 

Book a call with us today to learn more. 

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A special thank you to the foundations that have helped fund Mainstay's ongoing research and development:

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