U-M students develop mobile app ‘MDex’ to engage peers

January 17, 2024
MDex founders at Festifall. From left: Charles Zhong, Julius Stuhec, Pranav Thotakura. Image courtesy: MDex
MDex founders at Festifall. From left: Charles Zhong, Julius Stuhec, Pranav Thotakura. Image courtesy: MDex

Students at the University of Michigan have created the mobile application, MDex, which quickly gained attention on campus last year. MDex’s mission is to connect students with resources and engage the community.

The app aims to bridge the gap between students, organizations on campus, and local businesses by providing a central hub where free resources, events, deals, and giveaways on and around the campus can be found in an organized and engaging way.

MDex introduced the concept of the “MDex effect,” which describes the increased turnout and engagement at events posted on the platform.

“MDex serves to streamline connections and offer resources to students at U-M,” said Julius Stuhec, an undergraduate robotics major at U-M.

MDex is the brainchild of Stuhec. He pursued the idea with his friend Charles Zhong, a computer science major. Together, they coded the app without prior app development experience. The duo began the project in March with knowledge acquired through Umich classes and self-taught skills through online resources. After months of trial-and-error, they launched the app in August 2023 for the beginning of the fall semester.

Later they included another friend, Pranav Thotakura, a senior in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, to complete the founding team. The trio aimed to make navigating the sprawling campus and its many opportunities easier for fellow students.

Stuhec, Zhong and Thotakura became friends through the Global Scholars Program, an initiative that encourages students to explore global issues through coursework, small-group dialogues, and online internships with global NGOs.

The concept for MDex emerged from Stuhec’s inspiring experience at a free pizza event for his major. The personal experiences and challenges they faced when they first arrived at the university led the founders to create MDex.

Zhong, an international transfer student from Shanghai, found it, “overwhelming to navigate the campus and discover the many opportunities, connections and resources available.”

“Our hope is that if any student feels the same way—lacking time or energy—they can open MDex, see various organizations, and decide which ones they want to interact with, which ones they want to connect with.”

MDex’s mission is to simplify students’ experiences by creating a platform that provides a wealth of information. The app offers a curated feed where students can find details about organizations, student clubs, events and more.

The name MDex was derived from the app’s purpose of indexing the Michigan campus. Within a little over a month of the Apple app launch on iOS devices, there were more than 3,000 downloads and counting. The app launched on Android devices in October, which has vastly grown in popularity among students and campus departments and organizations.

“Our September coffee hour was featured on the app, and we saw a huge number of attendees who we don’t normally see attend our coffee hours,” said Samantha Antoine, program manager at the International Center’s Global Engagement and Education Abroad team. “Definitely one of our most highly attended. That was the first time that one of our coffee hours had been promoted on MDex.”

Sarah Keovongsak, communications specialist with the Center for the Education of Women+, said there has been a significant increase in the number of students who sign up for and attend CEW+ events since her office started using the MDex app,

“Many students on campus struggle with food insecurity and availability, and the app is a great resource to connect them with food and meals they may not have known about otherwise,” she said. “The app also has the potential to help reduce food waste by reaching these individuals and helps accurately plan our food needs based on the number of attendees registered.”

Undergraduate student Atlas Etienne uses the app every day.

“I commute from an hour away, and I’m a low-income student, so I tend to use it to check for free food,” Etienne said. “I also look for digital studies events. The first successful find I had through MDex was the DSI Study Hall event, and because I went to that event, I learned about the minor in digital studies.”

“MDex has allowed me to meet new people that I likely wouldn’t have met before,” said Eric Waswick, an undergraduate student majoring in honors physics and math. “I like how the app brings people together, and meeting new people is an important aspect of the college experience, especially as a freshman like me.”

Organizations, departments, schools, and other campus entities can post their events on the app, ensuring students have access to a wide range of information in one convenient location.

Event details must be submitted for verification before they are posted on the platform. This approach maintains the quality and accuracy of the information.

MDex is currently available exclusively for the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor community, with users required to have a umich.edu email address for verification. While the app is tailored to students on the Ann Arbor campus, the creators are open to the idea of expanding to other U-M campuses in the future.

MDex has continuous plans for its passion of creating value and driving impact for the U-M community engagement. They aim to continue improving and expanding the app as they gain more insights into its impact and potential.