Home » 10th Grader Looks to Boost Social Connectedness Through ACS Athens OPEN

10th Grader Looks to Boost Social Connectedness Through ACS Athens OPEN

Mar 5, 2024 | News

Despite the proliferation of social media in every part of our lives, many people today are looking for more meaningful social connectedness, which is vital both emotionally and physically.

Experts define social connectedness as a sense of belonging and the psychological bond people feel in relation to other individuals and groups, which explains why social media engagement alone does not provide meaningful connections because it fails to create bonds and a sense of fulfillment. Perhaps this explains why a 2020 Harvard study found that 61% of young people, ages 18-25, reported serious loneliness, compared to 39% across the general population.

Enhancing real and meaningful social connections is exactly what came to mind when then 9th-grader Vasileia Lalaki heard about ACS Athens OPEN, an innovation program launched by the Institute of ACS Athens last spring.

While young people can consider countless social media options, Vasileia points out that most connect people at a surface level. Additionally, for deeper engagement, safety is a concern for most platforms where potential bad actors can gain access to young people. At the same time, more secure platforms, such as WhatsApp, are more functional in nature and do not lend themselves to helping young people make connections based on common areas of common interest that can bring people together creating opportunities that start with connection and continue with action and maybe even friendship.

Identifying the market need was the first of many “eureka” moments that Vasileia shared when looking back at the evolution of her concept during the ACS Athens OPEN process over the past year. Others included:

  • While mapping out the customer development journey as part of the program, Vasileia interviewed many students to find out what they’d want from a platform designed to help them connect with others. After speaking to many students, she found students new to school were most interested in a tool to help them meet other teens with similar interests.
  • Over the course of a few months, Vasileia determined that her idea was too broad in its original form, and she needed to focus on creating a mini community for our [ACS Athens] community.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) saved the idea, which Vasileia originally considered a reimagination of online forums. After a recent mentor meeting, she realized that artificial intelligence could match people based on their interest so they could make meaningful connections faster, distinguishing this approach from traditional online forums.

As Vasileia moves on to the prototype phase by beginning to assemble her own version of connection-driven Avengers, she is excited to cheer the next “class” of ACS Athens OPEN participants submitting their ideas this spring.

“If you are passionate about something and are willing to put in the effort, do it – DON’T doubt yourself,” she advises her classmates. “Your idea does not have to be perfect. Don’t second guess yourself. Pitch your idea and be ready for the unexpected!”

1 Olusegun-Emmanuel, Foluke, “Social Connectedness and its Relation to Perceived Stress and Loneliness” (2023). Brescia Psychology Undergraduate Honours Theses. 46.

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