Social Networking

MIT Students Use Algorithms to Arrange Lunch Meetings

Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate students have applied algorithms to help students on campus connect for platonic face-to-face lunch meetings.

For the last year, MIT graduate students have been able to use their MIT ID to sign up on MIT Connect, answer a few questions about their daily schedules and what they like to eat, and then be matched with another student. In the first year, 1,000 students have used MIT Connect to arrange 1,000 face-to-face meetings.

The idea by Mohammad Ghassemi and Tuka Al-Hanai, students in the MIT electrical engineering and computer science department, warranted grants from the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education, the MindHandHeart Initiative, the DeFlorez Fund and the Legatum Fellowship that allowed them to move MIT Connect from a simple Google doc to a full-fledged platform that employs algorithmic matching.

They have now been able to expand access beyond MIT graduate students to undergraduate and postdoctoral students as well as alumni and employees.

Last year, after Ghassemi learned of the deaths of two very close friends and confided to Al-Hani, the two began asking others they knew of personal challenges they were having.

"Time and again," Ghassemi said, "students would explain how they wanted to find friends, mentors or co-founders, but found mixers to be impersonal and sometimes even awkward."

One suggestion from a friend was to come up with a way to meet people at random for lunch.

"If you were going to take time to eat lunch anyway," Al-Hanai said, "you might as well have lunch with someone new."

The two MIT Connect creators are now working on launching a version of the platform that will help students find mentors, employers and investors for their own projects.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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