During this time of being apart, graduate school students are making new connections virtually.

Sharing words of encouragement, their life stories, academic and research interests and personal hobbies with peers they’ve never met before is helping some students feel less alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These new connections and friendships have been forged through a newly launched program by the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences called Buddy Connections.

David Weiss, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, said the program started in March with the hope that students would be able to meet new people across the different graduate programs.

“You hear of social distancing turning to social isolation, so this is just one step we decided to take to try and keep students connected and watching out for each other,” said Dr. Weiss.

More than 60 students have signed up and are expanding their network of colleagues and friends.

Graduate students are randomly assigned a new connection each week. The students are asked to check in with their connection throughout the week by phone, email, Zoom or social media.

Samantha Yee
Samantha Yee, a Ph.D. student in the integrated biomedical sciences program
Sharon Kwee
Sharon Kwee, a Ph.D. student in the biomedical engineering program

Samantha Yee, a third-year Ph.D. student in the integrated biomedical sciences program, and Sharon Kwee, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the biomedical engineering program, met the first week of the program and continue to stay in touch.

Kwee said the program helps her feel connected to other students at UT Health San Antonio who are outside of her program and who she wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet.

“I’ve met some really great people with interesting hobbies and similar attitudes toward life as me and I’d love to meet them in person in the future,” she said.

Kwee said she’s made five connections and the conversations have ranged from athletic interests, work-life balance to culture, cooking and future career plans.

“It can be hard to make new friends ‘from scratch,’ but during COVID-19 everyone has something in common to discuss, which is that we’re all adjusting to a new way of living. Most likely everyone has some sort of challenge they’re working through and could use support,” Kwee said. “The buddy program allows students to share their interests, goals and hardships and foster a real and hopefully long-lasting connection.”

Yee has met four new people through Buddy Connections.

“The program allows me to feel connected to my peers at UT Health San Antonio during this challenging time during the pandemic,” she said. ” “It removes the association of isolation from social distancing.”