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  • Writer's pictureNathan Ostrowski

UPenn Students Find New Ways to Connect One-on-One with Classmates

UPenn students are taking “Zoom University” in a different direction.

Derek Nhieu, sophomore class president at the University of Pennsylvania, realized that orientation events over Zoom just weren’t cutting it.

“Ultimately, they were just awkward,” Nhieu said of the virtual events. “Our interactions felt very forced.”

Nhieu knew that one of the best parts of his college education so far is meeting and connecting with his classmates one-on-one. However, those connections have become much harder to find in a socially distanced world.

Reflecting on his own in-person experience as a first-year student, Derek said, “The one-on-ones, I think that’s what really defines the [college] experience, and makes it different from just being in a Zoom room. That more personal interaction is definitely what makes it enjoyable.”

Concerned his classmates weren’t making personal connections with their fellow students via Zoom, Nhieu envisioned an event that would enable hundreds of UPenn first-year students to connect one-on-one with classmates spread across the world.

Fortunately, through another campus organization, Circle K International, Nhieu had used a new platform called Glimpse. In a lightbulb moment, he decided to use Glimpse to create an event that would impact hundreds of students and help build community.

“I thought ‘oh! This is cool! I think we can use this for [UPenn]!’ so I adapted it for an event for our first-year students,” Nhieu said about his first exposure to Glimpse and its capabilities. Immediately, he saw its value for his own school and any community.

Nhieu’s first Glimpse Room: Penn 2024

Nhieu’s first Glimpse Room: Penn 2024

Glimpse is a platform that engages communities online through one-on-one, round-robin video chats. On Glimpse, Nhieu quickly set up a room where people could join in seconds from their phone, tablet, or laptop, without ever having to set up an account. Rather than just replicating the in-person experience, Glimpse also includes helpful features — such as icebreakers, mini-games and memories — allowing students to connect less awkwardly. Nhieu noted how easy Glimpse was for him, as an event host, to get up and running.

“We had over a hundred UPenn students meeting and getting to know each other for the first time. It was incredible,” Nhieu added.

Nhieu was blown away by the feedback he got from his fellow students. One first-year student raved, “It’s really cool talking to people one on one! We didn’t have that time to talk in Zoom breakout rooms [because] it was just awkward, and it felt very forced. But on Glimpse, I met a couple of great people, and we could talk without being interrupted. It was just us, and I actually wish I could talk to them more! So now I’m going to go back, we’re going to talk more.”

Those meaningful one-on-one connections weren’t the only positive point for UPenn students using Glimpse. Faster pacing was also a much-loved improvement over the events that had come before. As Nhieu puts it: “on Zoom, it can be very tiring — but on Glimpse, because you’re always meeting new people and talking one-on-one, it feels very fresh, you don’t get tired as quickly. People actually stay engaged.”

Asked about whether he thought other events at Penn would benefit from using Glimpse, Derek was quick to reply, “Oh for sure! I’m using it to help a mentorship program for first-years. We’re going to have university staff, upperclassmen counselors, and the first-year students using it as a ‘welcome back’ event! That way, they get to really meet and get to know the staff members.”

UPenn’s smash success is a prime example of how students can still connect and reconnect with each other, even while far apart. Using Glimpse, Nhieu and UPenn students broke the impersonal mold of “Zoom University” — choosing instead to create those personal one-on-one connections that define the college experience.

Now, students across the world — at dozens of schools like Duke, Waterloo, Stanford, and others — are using Glimpse to create new social opportunities for students to meet, reconnect, and network.

As Nhieu concluded, “One-on-one, that’s what people really love — especially on Glimpse.”

Special thanks to Derek Nhieu, Sophomore Class President at the University of Pennsylvania, for uniquely connecting students at UPenn and for providing this interview.

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