Carnegie Mellon University
November 16, 2020

Community App Aims to Keep CMU Students Connected at a Distance

By Rachel Latsko

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-1151
Julie Mattera
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-2902

A team of Carnegie Mellon University students has turned an idea for a class project into an app to help their peers navigate the remote university experience.

At the beginning of the spring 2020 semester, Snehita Sana and Nina Zanarelli ventured into the unknown in a course titled "Design for Social Innovation," taught by Arthi Krishnaswami, a 2006 graduate of the School of Design. For Sana, a senior statistics major with minors in math and business, it was her first design class. For Zanarelli, an exchange student from Milan, Italy, pursuing a master's degree in service design at the Politecno of Milano, it was one of her first experiences at CMU.

The two became friends and decided to plan their end of semester project together. Then came COVID-19, class moved online and Krishnaswami challenged her students to pick a group of people affected by the coronavirus, identify their problem and design a solution. 

Sana chose a group she knew best — her fellow CMU students.

"I know for a lot of us, our mental health has suffered since remote learning started. I had my own struggles and I knew I couldn't be the only one," Sana said.

Through surveys and interviews with their peers, Sana and Zanarelli identified a few reasons for their mental toll: not being able to connect with their community, not knowing what resources were available, and social and academic anxiety.

"Nina and I wanted to find a way to help reduce those anxieties and to help rebuild the CMU community that we fell in love with," Sana said

Zanarelli said after arriving at CMU she quickly felt a part of the CMU community.

"Everyone was kind and ready to help me from day one. That's what I liked most — the feeling of being a part of that kind and helpful community," Zanarelli said. "When the university transitioned to online classes in March, I immediately wanted to find a way to recreate that feeling for new and past students, even from afar."

Their proposal was to build The College Community App, where students could create study groups with their classmates, stay up-to-date on CMU events and find peer support and university resources.

"We wanted to give all students the opportunity to live their university experience to the fullest, wherever they were," Zanarelli said.

The duo's desire to help their peers didn't end with the spring semester. With their summer jobs canceled due to the pandemic, they had the opportunity to turn their proposal into a real tool to help the CMU community.

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