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Credit: Alana Kelly

When classes moved online in mid-March, many students lost the ability to make new friends on Locust Walk or in their classes. In response, three Penn students created a website and app to connect students with similar interests during the pandemic.

The platform, called Magic Connects, has preregistered more than 100 students ahead of its launch at the end of this month. Through its one-on-one matching system, the platform aims to connect users with similar interests or identifiers to help them build long-lasting friendships from around the world.

Engineering senior Vraj Shroff decided to create the platform in November because he noticed a lack of opportunities to make meaningful connections through social media, which has become a prevalent form of communication for students while they are socially distanced.

“It seems like in the pandemic, it’s really hard to meet that many people,” Shroff said. “Even in breakout rooms people don’t talk, they’re just on mute, so it’s really hard to make meaningful connections with people. There was a clear need to find people who like similar things.”

Shroff said Magic Connects is distinct from other popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Tinder, because it matches students based on their interests. 

Magic Connects allows students to add identifiers to their profile, such as “Wharton Healthcare Club” or “ECON 001: Introduction to Microeconomics,” and matches students based on these common classes, clubs, and interests, Shroff said. Professors and club leaders can also use these identifiers to increase engagement within their respective communities, he added.

Magic Connects is programmed to periodically suggest news articles of shared interests to nudge students to stay connected weeks after their first interaction. In doing so, the platform will help facilitate long-lasting relationships, Shroff said.

The Magic Connects team consists of Shroff, who works on strategy and platform implementation, Engineering senior Anne Chen, who is the head of design, and Wharton and College senior Pallavi Menon, who is the head of public relations.

Chen, who started working for Magic Connects in January, said one of the biggest challenges for the team has been ensuring the security of the platform.

“I know my friends and other students will be using this platform, so we wanted the platform to be as secure as possible,” Chen said. “For instance, only current students can sign up for this platform. And students can report inappropriate behavior, so we always have a safe community for everyone.”

By taking measures like verifying student accounts with their school email addresses, the team hopes to create a secure environment for all users, Chen said.

Wharton senior Joy Cai, one of 210 students invited to provide feedback on Magic Connects before the launch, said she believes the platform could serve as a great vehicle for underclassmen to build relationships with potential mentors. 

“I can imagine for [first years], sophomores, and even juniors, they can get a lot of value from Magic Connects by trying to reach out to upperclassmen for help,” Cai said. 

Shroff said he is optimistic that the platform will help students feel some semblance of normalcy in their day-to-day lives.

“The best thing about this is I’m creating something not just for myself or for my friends, but for the Penn community,” Shroff said. “I’m really excited that I’m doing something that will be very commonly usable and helpful for my friends and the community.”

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