Students create site to foster connection during quarantine

A college student at home alone while his mom works in a hospital made a new friend last week — a 77-year-old widow also stuck at home. The pair commiserated with each other about their similar situations. A guitar player met another player and songwriter and were able to spend time singing and composing through Zoom.

These four people were some of more than 600 who have signed up to connect with others during the COVID-19 pandemic on a website founded by a trio of Cornell students.

Quarantine Buddy is a retooling of the students’ other business, Zing, which helps professors connect students within their classes for studying help and collaborative projects. Zing is a member of the eLab business accelerator this year.

“We wanted to channel the stress and uncertainty of this time into something that could benefit people,” said Jordyn Goldzweig ’21, who founded the company with Sam Brickman ’21 and Alisa Lai ’22. Goldzweig and Brickman are students in the College of Arts & Sciences, while Lai is in the College of Engineering.

“We saw all of these people posting about how lonely they were and how they wanted to connect,” Brickman said. “So we started talking to people and ended up speaking to people, from college students up to people in their late 70s, who said they wish they had an outlet for human interaction.”

When someone logs on to the new website, they answer a few questions about what they’ve been doing during this period of social distancing and what kind of connections they would like to make. While the regular Zing platform tries to match students based on similar interests and class needs, this new site will actually encourage diversity and differences so people can connect with others from a different part of the world, from a different culture or with new interests and insights. Because of this change, the students altered their algorithm to encourage these new types of matches.

As classes started this week, the trio of students say they’ll continue to work on both businesses and feel like Quarantine Buddy will have a life even after the virus settles down, whenever that might happen.

“What’s going on right now is dramatizing a problem that’s been growing for the last few years: people are more isolated than ever before and they don’t feel comfortable going up to people and talking with them,” Brickman said. “This is still going to be a huge problem. People will still want to find outlets for social connections.”

Rays of Hope is an ongoing series of stories showing how Cornell faculty, staff, students and alumni are responding with creativity and kindness to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have suggestions for a person to feature, please email Kathy Hovis at kah53@cornell.edu.

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