Ruben Martinez Jr.’s enjoys connecting people and helping them get to know one another. Another interest for him is web development. So Martinez, a computer science major, is primed to contribute to the expanding online social world where increasingly more of our relationships are formed or nurtured.
Martinez’s current focus is connecting Bowdoin students. “I think there are a lot of really great people at Bowdoin, who, if you don’t take a class with them, you’ll never meet them,” he said. To facilitate new friendships and interesting conversations, the rising junior from Brownsville, Texas, has developed an online tool that lets Bowdoin students schedule to meet for a meal or treat.
This summer, “starting from scratch” and coding with HTML and PHP, Martinez has created the Dining with Strangers site. The site is still being tested but will be ready by this fall, along with an iPhone app he’s working on.
This concept is the digital equivalent of the College’s ‘Dining With Six Strangers’ tradition. Once a semester, Residential Life invites students, faculty and staff to a catered dinner, and seats them with five people from campus they don’t know.
Martinez appreciates this occasion and said he wanted to expand the opportunity to more than just two nights a year. “If you have a class that night or a big test the next day, you can’t go,” he said.
Any student can use for Martinez’s Dining with Strangers scheduling tool with their Bowdoin login. To make a date, students choose either Thorne or Moulton dining halls, or Gelato Fiasco, then select the number of people they’d like to meet and the day and time. Gelato Fiasco, a local sweet shop on Maine Street, is sponsoring Martinez’s site and will contribute to its upkeep. Martinez is in talks with other local eateries to enlist their support as well, and in turn he will give users the option of meeting up at these local spots.
Martinez was inspired to create his social tool during a mobile computing class he took last semester with computer science professor Eric Chown. For his class project, Martinez dreamed up a Dining with Strangers app for the iPhone. Other students encouraged his idea, so this summer he continued his work on a website, which, more than phone apps, is his real programming love, he says.
Martinez says Dining with Strangers is not just for extraverts who want to make more friends. It should also appeal to shy people. “Some of my more introverted friends are excited that they can meet people without being too social,” such as going to a rowdy party. “It’s controlled environment.”