By Vama Saini, November 2 2023—
In a bid to transform the way students study and tackle academic anxiety, Kendra Baretta, a University of Calgary graduate student, has founded ZenZero. This innovative startup introduces customizable modular study pods to reduce stress and enhance productivity.
In her interview with the Gauntlet, Baretta discusses how she developed this idea from her personal experiences as a student. She recognized the growing anxiety and stress among students and sought to create a solution to alleviate these issues.
“The inspiration behind ZenZero came from my own struggles with anxiety during my second year of undergrad. I realized that many students face similar issues, and I wanted to create a study environment that could adapt to their specific needs,” said Baretta.
ZenZero’s core concept revolves around offering a tailored study environment that prioritizes students’ well-being.
“When I began designing the pod, I knew I needed to create a space that would cater to various aspects of a student’s well-being,” said Baretta. “Initially, I noticed the harsh lighting on campus, which can cause eye strain, especially after hours of screen time. I also understood the importance of controlling noise levels within the pod.”
The pod is designed to accommodate three different styles of studying — sitting, standing and pacing. To promote circulation, the pod offers ample space for movement in both directions.
“This is particularly important because our current desks cannot adjust heights, and standing or pacing can be distracting to others,” said Baretta.
ZenZero addresses common distractions for U of C students by implementing frosted corners inside the pod, offering privacy and reducing visual disruptions. These design elements have been informed by research involving a sample of over 300 U of C students.
“Every aspect of the prototype, from sensory sensitivities to overall wellness considerations, is grounded in research findings from the U of C student community,” said Baretta. “The design of the pods is tailored to the specific needs and preferences of U of C students, making it an ideal solution for our campus.”
The ultimate goal was to reduce psychological barriers and make the studying environment less daunting. The pods are set to integrate elements such as greenery and soothing colours to create an inviting atmosphere that fosters a positive mood.
“Sometimes, just introducing a splash of colour can help create a more relaxed and achievable environment,” Baretta said. “The key is that you have control over these elements. During midterm and finals seasons, when patience wears thin, and the pressure to perform well intensifies, that stress can negatively impact your performance. Even a small sense of control during these critical times can be revolutionary.”
Baretta emphasized her undergraduate Kinesiology advisor’s supportive role in her academic journey. This support left a lasting impact on her, inspiring Baretta to give back to the academic ecosystem and provide students with a supportive study environment.
“I love Kinesiology and the program at the university. But what stuck with me into my mature life was the support I received from my advisor,” Baretta said. “I want to give back that support I received through these pods. I know it’s not the same as a person, but that supportive environment can make a big difference for students.”
Baretta’s long-term vision for ZenZero is to expand beyond the U of C and provide students at different universities with customized study spaces.
“My objective is to customize each design according to the unique attributes of each institution’s student body rather than employing a generic, one-size-fits-all strategy. I would need to research the students of that particular institution to understand their specific needs,” said Baretta.
Baretta recognizes that ZenZero could facilitate dialogue between students and the university.
“The university is a large organization, and it’s sometimes challenging to establish effective communication between students and decision-makers to implement what’s best for the institution,” said Baretta.
“I presented this idea to the university, and their support has been exceptional,” Baretta continued.
As ZenZero seeks to revolutionize study spaces and improve the student experience, Baretta remains committed to delivering a unique, tailored and sustainable solution.
More information about ZenZero can be found on the U of C website.