This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to “build bridges” with those different from themselves. The Get Marty: Community Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.
Snehita Sana and Nina Zanarelli arrived on the Carnegie Mellon University Campus in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the spring 2020 semester. They had high hopes for what they’d achieve and the new people they’d meet. They had no idea their world would be upended by a pandemic.
Sana, a senior statistics major from New York, and Zanarelli, an exchange student from Milan, Italy, met in a course titled Design for Social Innovation. They decided to partner on their final project.
As campus life changed from in-person instruction to on-line classes, their teacher, Arthi Krishnaswami, encouraged students to identify a group affected by the pandemic and design something that could help. “Our professor said, ‘let’s go with the flow.’ COVID has affected everyone,” Sana remembered.
For these women the “group” to help was obvious: their classmates. Figuring out a way to do that was the challenge. They talked to as many people as they could. “It’s a negative cycle we’re all going through but we don’t realize it until we say it out loud,” said Sana. “And that’s what we found in other people.”
They discovered that students were feeling isolated and alone. Their project resulted in The College Community app, a place where students can connect with classmates, stay up to date on campus events and find support through other students and university resources. “To have something so simple to use, we always have our phone in our hands,” said Zanarelli.
Because the women weren’t experts in app development, they recruited a team from among their classmates and professors, including Sarayu Namineni, Eshita Kar, Shreya Manjunath and Helen Dong (above).
Now an app that was supposed to be just a class project has been incorporated, and the students are marketing the College Community not only for CMU students but to other universities. “We’re not going to stop when we go to in person learning,” said Sana. She sees the app as a great orientation tool for colleges and universities. “We’re going to keep it going.”
The team welcomes your feedback at [email protected]
Follow for updates on Instagram: @the_college_community
The Get Marty: Community Bridges project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.