University Students Flock to New USF Pen Pal Program During Social Distancing

(March 20, 2020) – As universities around the world move to hold classes online due to the COVID-19 outbreak, University of South Florida students are turning to a time-honored concept to stay connected: the pen pal.

The College Pen Pal initiative was launched by the COMPASS student experience office at USF’s St. Petersburg campus after it was announced March 17 that fully remote course instruction will continue through the rest of the spring semester.

Less than 48 hours after the program was announced on Instagram, more than 700 students from universities across the country and all three USF campuses signed up to correspond with a like-minded pal while practicing social distancing.

“We wanted to give students a fun and easy outlet to stay engaged with one another,” said Carolina Nutt, director of COMPASS. “We know that the months ahead are going to be challenging. We hope this will give them someone to turn to if they’re feeling lonely or frustrated.”

While many of the current participants are USF students, Nutt said she hopes it will spread to colleges and universities nationwide. Already, students have signed up from Yale, New York University, University of St. Louis, University of Wyoming, Florida State University and University of Central Florida, among others.

To participate, students can go to bit.ly/collegepenpal. Links are also available on USF’s social media pages. After filling out the online form, participants will be matched with one another by members of the COMPASS program. The first round of matches will be announced today.

It will be up to participants how frequently they want to correspond. Meredith Mechanik, the COMPASS program coordinator who came up with the idea, said she hopes the students will find creative ways to communicate with one another.

“While there is so much uncertainty right now, there has been comfort in knowing that we’re all in this together,” said Mechanik. “Regardless of location, major or university, college students around the world are having the shared experience of social distancing. We are so excited to see what kinds of connections and creative endeavors come out of this project.”