Let's Chat Elizabeth Kim Cover Photo

{{ story.headline }}

{{ story.subheading }}

{{ story.timestamp }}

Most college students who have used public transportation can agree that riding a bus can often be an awkward experience. Seeing a guy you met during orientation week but completely forgetting his name, waving at someone you thought you know but actually don’t, accidentally sitting in between two best friends...with the potential for so many uncomfortable situations, it isn’t unusual to walk into a bus where everyone is evading eye contact with strangers, staring blankly into phone screens, headphones in ear.

Elizabeth Kim Vivify
Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Kim

It was this environment that sparked a question in Duke sophomore Elizabeth Kim’s head. Is college supposed to be a place where thousands of aspiring scientists, artists, politicians and entrepreneurs convene – only to not connect with each other? The point of college is to learn and grow from diverse perspectives. But this isn’t happening outside the classroom. How can we get two random people sitting on a bus to become best friends in one year? In one month? In five minutes?

Kim believes the answer to this is authentic dialogue. In real life though, opportunities for authentic dialogue can be difficult to find. Especially with all the social barriers present on a college campus, it’s human nature to default to small talk. We’re afraid to offend, so we chat about neutral things like the weather and classes,” she explains.

Luckily, Kim thinks the solution can be found in the problem: technology. Over the past couple of months, Kim has worked alongside six other students (Sakura Takahashi, Richard Liu, Ying Qi, Sivaneshwaran Loganathan, and Bobby Lin) to develop a unique iOS application, Vivify. Her team, called “Blackwell Innovations,” consists of other Duke undergraduates representing diverse fields, including engineering, economics and visual design. 

“Currently, the most popular social apps, like Tinder, are focused on hookup culture. But what about people who just want a good conversation?” says Kim. Vivify provides just that, by encouraging students and faculty with similar interests to connect after engaging in anonymous virtual conversation.

While many would cite Kim’s efforts as an entrepreneurial pursuit, the intriguing component of her venture is its deep roots in research. She is designing her own major (through Duke’s Program II option), combining her intellectual passions in social psychology, behavioral economics, and documentary studies. Dan Ariely, award-winning behavioral economist, author and director of Duke’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, has offered to help and is now her program advisor. Under his advisement, Kim will conduct research on conversations related to the app next semester.  

 “It is a dream come true to work with Dan," she says. "He is so enthusiastic about helping us with our app, and that inspires us to keep going every day."

The app and its research can also help scholars develop their theories on mental health. For example, Dr. Joseph Talley, associate director of Counseling & Psychological Services and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University Medical Center, expressed to Kim that the app would shed light on an upcoming field in psychotherapy, virtual counseling. Kim is looks forward to seeing how this new venture can advance academic research.

Vivify is on roads to being launched on Duke's campus early next year. If successful, the team will look to expand to other universities and communities, providing a safe virtual environment for people to talk about meaningful issues.

In startup culture, there’s this idea that entrepreneurship and academia are two separate worlds. As someone whose entrepreneurial passion is sparked and furthered by deep academic interests, Kim proves that the two are not mutually exclusive, and the fusion of the two worlds may be just what we need to push them both ahead.

Vivify Logo
Vivify is a platform for communities to engage in authentic conversation.