By Aiesha Solomon
For The Diamondback

As the spring semester gets underway at the University of Maryland, many students find themselves flocking to virtual messaging apps, trying to connect with classmates amid another semester of mostly online learning.

Although many students rely heavily on GroupMe to communicate with their peers, freshmen Daniel Park and Daniel Wei are developing a new app to cater to this university’s community: Shellter.

Expected to launch in August, students using Shellter will be able to enter their courses in the app, which will then automatically place them into chatrooms with their classmates. The app will use data from Testudo, this university’s academic web portal, Park said.

This will remove the need for students to make their own chats for their courses, which is often done through link sharing via email or by searching spreadsheets filled with links to chat rooms.

[UMD President Darryll Pines expects in-person classes in fall 2021]

“We are trying to solve that problem of repeating that stressful process every semester,” said Park, a freshman electrical engineering major.

Park said he and Wei were high school friends and, after coming up with the idea for the application, he reached out to Wei to see if he’d be interested in helping him create it.

“The first lightbulb moment when I got this idea was around November,” Park said. “[Wei] was my first go-to, to ask if he’s interested, and he said yes.”

Currently, version one of the app is complete, which is the function with the course chats. Wei said that after the app is released, anyone with a account will be able to access these chat rooms, meaning teaching assistants and professors can join as well.

But even with chat rooms solely dedicated to classes, Park said, users will also have the option to create private chats outside of their courses.

The creators are still planning out Shellter’s moderating system, Wei said. Because the application will create the chat rooms, there won’t be a single user monitoring or “owning” the chat, as is the case with many other messaging platforms.

Wei said an idea he and Park have for developing their moderating system is to use a voting system among users.

“If a user is cheating or sending answers, members of the chat can basically vote to kick them out and also vote to report,” said Wei, a freshman computer science major.

[UMD students appreciate spring pass/fail option but say it’s long overdue]

Although the app was partially inspired by GroupMe, there are other features still in development that make Shellter different, the duo said. Park said he and Wei plan to have components called “Features” and “Confessions.”

The “Features” aspect will be a chat with groups organized by academic year, and “Confessions” will be a feature that allows students to learn more about others in their university community and share anonymous stories, Park said.

Although Shellter is still in its beta phase, about 100 people have shown interest and volunteered to help test the app, Park said.

Rachel Rudinger, a computer science professor at this university, said apps such as Shellter can help bring people together during a time of isolation.

“One of the major challenges to education during COVID is people feeling disconnected and not getting to have in-person interactions,” Rudinger said. “Any kind of technology that helps us stay connected during COVID is going to be a huge benefit.”

The app’s main goal is helping university students connect with each other, Park said.

“Our vision of this app is to have all UMD students use our app and help them get closer to each other and know about them better, and provide a clear way for classmates to find each other,” Park said, adding that he and Wei hope to expand to other institutions one day.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article’s photo caption misidentified Daniel Park and Daniel Wei. Park is on the left and Wei is on the right. This caption has been updated.