Networking site Devils Connect helps students form study groups, stay in school

(Photo Courtesy of Jessica Hochneiter)

(Photo Courtesy of Jessica Hochneiter)

With more than 75,000 students enrolled at ASU, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

Transfer students such as construction engineering senior Yash Lalwani and finance senior Devesh Tuteja realized that finding other students to study with was difficult at a large university, but necessary to their academic success.

Last June, they launched their solution to the problem: Devils Connect, an academic portal that integrates social networking features.

Devils Connect now has more than 2,400 users and connects students with fellow classmate or students of similar disciplines to form study groups and increase university retention rates, Lalwani said.

To make the site secure, a student can only sign up with a verified ASU email account. Locations are kept totally private and are only used to match students with their study groups. Students are strongly encouraged to meet in public places or online only, he said.

When students sign up for the website, they are matched with other students living in their area who are in the same classes or in the same major. This is called the clique.

Students also gain access to forums to discuss coursework and college success skills with other students and a student-operated calendar to help them stay organized.

From its conceptualization more than a year ago to the fully operational networking site it is today, the Devils Connect crew has had the support of a committed mentor.

Matthew McCarthy, a professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business, has been working with the founders since the beginning, when Devils Connect was just an idea.

As a professor who teaches classes that are required at the business school, he has students pitch ideas to him regularly.

He said Lalwani and Tuteja stood out from his other students.

“They came to me because they said they had a great idea,” he said. “I teach a lot of kids. I have 4,000 students a year in my classes. I’m always very happy to listen, however (to) a lot of them I say, ‘Is that really a good idea?’ These guys were a little different.”

McCarthy said what made their idea different from others was the fact that it addressed a real problem in the University.

“They kind of recognized the problem they saw in the University, basically that there was poor retention,” he said. “They both came from different universities, and they both had a difficult time finding study groups and people that were taking classes that they were taking.”

McCarthy, along with a few other faculty members, has worked with the Devils Connect team to get the networking site off the ground.

“I’ve been with them every step of the way,” he said. “If you want to point out really high quality, excellent graduates of ASU in general, you can look at Devesh and Yash.”

McCarthy said the dedication the team has to making Devils Connect work is impressive. They are not just tinkering, but have really committed to making it work, he said.

“If I didn’t think it was going to work, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “I just really believed in what they were doing.”

Lalwani and Tuteja brought the idea to McCarthy in January 2013. By June, the website was up and running. By the end of fall the website had 1,800 students, Tuteja said.

“We actually have 2,400 users right now, and it’s growing rapidly,” Tuteja said.

The website has been promoted by word of mouth and in class presentations given by Lalwani and Tuteja. This year, the duo focused primarily on improving the website and getting more users, he said.

The current goal is to continue improving the website and gaining users so the University can license Devils Connect. Right now, Lalwani and Tuteja finance the website with their own funds.

Tuteja said if the University licenses the service, it would allow them to bring it to other universities as well. He is working to partner with ASU and expand Devils Connect.

“What we are doing right now is partnering with the University, (and we are) trying to expand to an extent where the University can license our software,” he said.

Both Lalwani and Tuteja are graduating this year, but they have a team of fellow students working on the website with them, and they plan to stay heavily involved with its growth and development.

Like every website, it is a work in progress.

Lalwani and Tuteja have a team of students that work with them to improve Devils Connect and make it more user friendly, he said.

“The Devils Connect team consists of students that have completely different majors, backgrounds, nationalities and life experiences,” he said. “The diversity of the team is the secret sauce that brings in varied constructive opinions.”

Computer science freshman Arin Houck, a member of the team, works with the designers to improve the site.

Houck met the founders through Engineering Project in Community Service, a social entrepreneurship program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering that is designed to use student ideas and partnerships to solve problems in the community.

Houck, who said he has been tinkering with web design and computer systems since childhood, took interest in Devils Connect and began collaborating with Lalwani and Tuteja.

He is working with the duo and with developers who are in India to improve the site.

“The developers are in India and I’ve been working with them to get a test database and I’m redesigning the site right now,” he said. “Every week we meet up, we design a new page and we go from there. I design it over the weekend usually.”

He said he wants to modernize the site by making it compatible with mobile phones.

“It’s not mobile responsive, so you can’t use it on phones or anything like that,” Houck said. “That’s something I’m trying to design for them.”

Contact the reporter at stewart.stewart@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @Melissa152163