New site connects graduate roommates

The COGS website matches graduate and professional students.

Blair Emerson

When Nicole Scott came to the University of Minnesota to start a graduate program in cognitive science, she turned to Craigslist to find housing. But Scott was skeptical to sign a lease with someone she didn’t know.

“Locally, you can use Craigslist, but it may not be the safest way of doing it,” she said.

Scott and other University Council of Graduate Students members found few ways to locate housing for graduate and professional students who are new to the University, so they took action.

COGS launched a website this fall aimed at helping graduate and professional students find roommates for off-campus housing. The service requires a University email address and connects potential roommates based on their housing preferences.

To date, 28 people are using the website.

Meghan Donaghy, a graduate student studying public health administration policy, used the website and said many potential roommates contacted her.

“It’s nice to know there will be someone else who obviously has some kind of similar interests to me if we’re both going to the U, we’re both students and we both care about learning,” she said.

Donaghy ultimately found housing without the roommate exchange but said she’d consider using it in the future.

“If I had to do it again, that would be the first place I would look,” she said.

When COGS was first developing its roommate exchange, the goal was to help international students in particular to find housing.

Before the website went public, there wasn’t a service to help international graduate and professional students, said Beth Isensee, assistant director of International Student and Scholar

She said there are legal constraints that make it difficult to have any housing programs specifically for international students.

ISSS sends international students with housing concerns to the University’s Housing and Residential Life for assistance, Isensee said.

HRL currently has a tool to help students search for off-campus housing, but it doesn’t focus on connecting graduate and professional students like the COGS service does.

Of the more than 12,000 Twin Cities graduate students at the University, few live on campus.

According to University data, 68 live in residence halls or on-campus apartments and 514 live in the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative and the Como Student Community Cooperative.

When students apply to the COGS roommate exchange, they provide information such as their preferred neighborhood, price range, when they want to move in and their ideal living

Jeshwanth Durga Sagar Kundem, an aerospace engineering and mechanics graduate student, helped create the COGS website. He came to the University from India in 2012 and said he thinks the website will be helpful to international students.

“Students should be able to understand it [and say], ‘This looks easy,’” he said.

Kundem said website usage is picking up, but it isn’t a perfect system yet.

The roommate exchange is still in its early stages, and COGS members are working to fix kinks in the website’s design.

After this semester, Scott said, COGS will seek student feedback on the website and look for ways to improve it.

The University’s Office for Student Affairs has expressed interest in working with COGS on the roommate exchange, she said, but nothing is official for now. OSA will review how the exchange is progressing in the fall, Scott said.