Penn State

Flash mob kicks off app launch

The music started, the dancers assembled, heels flicked upward in rhythm. When it was over, the impromptu audience clapped. They didn’t know lunch included a show.

“This is actually our first flash mob,” said Shivam Patel, a co-captain of the dance club, with a smile. It was a day of firsts all around.

Amid the hub and hubbub of Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center on Tuesday afternoon, a dance performance broke out, with nervous smiles quickly giving way to fancy footwork. Sher Bhangra, a Penn State dance club promoting Punjabi culture, twisted in tune, providing a show in conjunction with the app launch of What’s Poppin, an online platform that connects users to events with flair, but ones that often stay hidden. Events, in other words, like Tuesday’s.

“Rather than having for students to go and find events themselves, we came to the conclusion that we should bring the event to them,” said Joseph Kitonga, What’s Poppin’s founder. “So the flash mobs were kind of born out of that idea.”

What’s Poppin, which launched apps on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store on Tuesday, also plans to host a live musical performance and another dance troupe on Wednesday afternoon in the HUB.

Kitonga, a sophomore computer engineering major, founded the startup after spending the summer in State College looking for things to do. Large events, such as Penn State football games or Bryce Jordan Center events, he said, were already well-known. But smaller events that get people to think and “explore different experiences” could be just as entertaining — and edifying.

Sher Bhangra, Kitonga said, was “a perfect example of that.” Kitonga said sharing cultural experiences that help people connect — whether it’s a singing group, a comedy performance, or a flash dance mob — was part of his team’s goal in creating What’s Poppin.

The app, meanwhile, matches users with events based on their interests.

“Say you’re interested in music, you can filter different events based on music,” Kitonga said. “Or maybe you want to see other performing arts events at Penn State or fundraisers, you can see those in the app.”

The app also features What’s Poppin Stories, short descriptions of past and future events curated by the platform. Kitonga said the startup has added a team of writers besides working with other student publication groups in creating the content.

Like many cultural institutions, Bhangra, a centuries-old traditional dance of northern India, has evolved over the years, being kept alive through film, weddings and student clubs like Patel’s. Sher Bhangra, for instance, has competed nationally.

But for Kitonga, students often don’t know about their peers’ hidden talents.

“Let’s bring these cool clubs to Penn State,” he said, “and show them what they’re missing out on.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy