- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - On a sun-soaked Sunday afternoon, Brandon and Claire were making their way through a corn maze at Landess Farm.

It was their second date. Ditto for the two other couples joining them - Alex and Jen, Sam and Shannon.

As they navigated the trail through the towering stalks, you could catch bits and pieces of conversations - childhood memories of Halloween, middle names, what their parents do for a living.

They got lost a few times. They stopped for selfies. Later, they would pick out pumpkins together in the nearby patch.

Sounds like normal date stuff. Except for the fact that it’s all part of a class project at Ball State University. And much like that corn maze, the project will follow the twists and turns - and possible dead ends - of three relationships. Matches made in a classroom.

Junior Albert Jennings, a self-described romantic (“Yes, I’m sappy when it comes to that stuff”), came up with the matchmaking idea after reading about two friends who dated for 40 days as part of a social experiment, following specific rules.

“I wondered if that would work on a bigger scale,” he told The Star Press (https://tspne.ws/1zk1kRE ). “Could you create romance out of seemingly nothing?”

Cardinal Chemistry was about to find out.

Ball State communications professor Mary Moore said it was up to the class to determine a group project for the semester. She never expected it to be about love connections.

“They are more invested if they choose the topic then if I give them a topic,” she said with a smile.

The students presented pitches for a number of options, from fundraising to care packages to races. Jennings’ idea garnered the most votes.

“It’s an opportunity, for me, to really see leadership emerge,” she said. Because this is a leadership class, after all. Perhaps we forgot to mention that part.

The experiment started at the beginning of October. Three guys in the class - Alex Romoser, Sam Kearney and Brandon Phillips - volunteered to be the guinea pigs, er, bachelors.

“I thought only in college could you do something like this,” Alex said with a laugh.

“It sounded like a unique project . and I didn’t have anything better to do,” Brandon added with a grin.

Sam admitted the whole thing felt a little “artificial.” ”Falling in love is random,” he said. “The fact that everyone would be planning things for us was pretty strange. But . it also sounded like fun.”

A mixer was planned at Bracken Library, where the guys mingled nervously with several brave young women who were also willing to give this thing a shot.

The guys were seated at a long table, identified by poster boards behind them, which noted - in Sharpie - their interests. It was standard dating site details.

Alex is a junior organizational communications major who loves music, running and traveling. Sam is a junior interpersonal communications major who loves music and nature and hanging with his family. Brandon is a junior interpersonal communications major who loves to play guitar and watch his way through his Netflix queue.

The women filled out personality profiles and a “love language” test and then wrote down which guy, based on the aforementioned interests and some brief chit chat, they were interested in. That information was shared with the guys and after some deliberation, they chose the woman they would be dating for the rest of the semester. The woman, Jennings said, “they sparked with” - Brandon chose Claire Huntley; Sam chose Shannon Hines, and Alex chose Jen Zarate.

Information about the ladies was posted quickly by the promotions team (yes, there are specific teams. More on that in a minute).

Jen is a senior interpersonal communications major and a shameless BSU fan. Shannon is a sophomore architecture major who likes to show her creative side. Claire is a sophomore elementary education major who loves Diet Coke and peanut butter.

Although the project sounds similar to those popular dating reality shows, or 12, it’s proving to be quite challenging for the class.

“There is something new to deal with every day,” Jennings said. “Things I never would have expected. But you are going to have that when you are dealing with 34 people with different ideas.”

Last week, they were all on the second floor of the David Letterman building, gathered in their respective groups. The Romance group orchestrates each date, from start to finish. The Psychoanalytic group gathers and records and, well, analyzes, all of the information from scheduled interviews with the couples and post-date evaluations. The Promotions group is responsible for keeping all things Cardinal Chemistry on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And the storytelling group takes it to another level, documenting the entire process in blog and vlog form on Tumblr.

There are already more than 200 likes on Facebook, the promotions group reports. Twitter is lagging behind, it’s noted. The Romance group was busy planning that pumpkin-picking date. A series of video interviews with the couples was being scheduled and rescheduled.

Jennings said he doesn’t want this to be like those reality TV shows. “We aren’t out to create drama,” he said. “We set up dates and whatever happens, happens.” (This will be repeated by several of the daters, almost a Cardinal Chemistry mantra.)

Cardinal Chemistry is more than just date and tell, mind you. There will be assignments throughout - your classic papers on how the project is going and a reflective paper at the end.

The first group date was at Panera, where they bonded for about an hour over sandwiches and flavored teas. They will be required to do five of these group dates over the semester. But they are also encouraged to hang out “on their own,” Jennings said.

Two of the couples have done that already.

Claire and Brandon went to feed a cat. “He had to feed a cat for a friend and wanted to know if I wanted to go along,” she said. “Why not?”

Jen has already met - gulp - Alex’s family.

“It wasn’t planned to be like that,” she said, holding her freshly picked pumpkin in her arms.

They had another date planned, then this one - an opportunity to watch his sister audition for a Christmas program - came up. “It was the greatest date ever,’” she said. And she was serious. “His family is awesome,” she added.

Sam and Shannon said it’s been difficult to meet up outside of the scheduled dates because she’s often busy in late-night labs. And Sam isn’t much for phone calls and whatnot.

After each date, both daters fill out an evaluation form, later poured over by the psychoanalytic team.

“We say what we liked about the date, what we liked about her,” Brandon said. “She fills out the same about me. We don’t get to see those.”

Which makes Alex a little nervous. So he said he keeps things in the “OK” zone.

“I don’t want to say it was great and then she says it was just OK,” he said with a laugh.

Admittedly, things were pretty routine at first for the storytelling and promotions teams. Then it happened.

“The first kiss,” Jennings said with a wide grin. “All the groups were excited. That’s the juicy stuff they were waiting for.”

That kiss happened between Brandon and Claire after a bet about a Ryan Reynolds film. Brandon detailed what went down on the Tumblr page: “I build up enough courage to say, trembling: ‘If I’m right, we kiss.’ With confidence, she replies: ‘Okay .. If you’re right, we can kiss. And if you’re wrong, we kiss.’”

This might be their “thing,” as evidenced on the hay ride at the pumpkin patch. This time it was a discussion about the song “Monster Mash.” Brandon was not familiar with the tune and was convinced this must be some rare Halloween tune. He was quickly proven wrong as the rest of the hayriders started singing it.

The guys talk regularly - they are in the same class, after all - about “the girls.” So “the girls” decided to start comparing notes as well.

That’s when Shannon and Jen learned that Claire wasn’t planning to participate in this project. Her friend wanted her there as a “wing woman.”

“I went along and I was just being myself,” she said. “So it’s cool that I was chosen for just being me. I wasn’t exactly trying to get picked.”

As for putting all of their date details online for everyone to see, they don’t seem to mind that much.

“After a date, I always go back and tell our friends about it anyway, so why not share it with a bigger group,” Shannon said.

Jennings said that, yes, these relationships are under a microscope, but that many people this age are comfortable with putting things out into the world via their own tweets and pics.

“A lot of us do overshare because we want everyone to know what we are doing,” he said. “But as time goes on, this will get more personal so it will be interesting how much they will share then.”

He actually thinks this project could be healthier for a relationship. First, it gets these couples out on actual dates, instead of hooking up at bars or getting to know each other over emoticons and LOL’s.

“It really forces each couple to deal with things up front rather than let things go,” he said. “And it lets them get immediate feedback about things they did or said. Things that could help them with that relationship or others in the future.”

Jen said that, so far, it has been fun. “Whatever happens, happens,” she said, simply. And all said that, no matter what “happens,” they have five new friends out of the deal.

Sure, Sam said, the thought that they all have to stick it out through December was a little off-putting at first. “But luckily we get along,” he added.

For now, anyway. If they don’t, we’ll hear every juicy detail on the interwebs, right?

___

Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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