Luddy students enjoyed cultural sites while also learning about a non-profit organization.
Classrooms are great, but there is no better teacher than learning in the real-world, especially when that learning can be done in a different culture.
Students from the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering recently became one of the first groups from IU to travel internationally in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when they visited Mexico City as part of their I494-95 informatics capstone course. Students worked with New Comienzos, a nonprofit organization that assists recent deportees from the United States, migrants, and binational families adjust to life in Mexico. The group toured the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and explored cultural venues of Mexico City and the surrounding areas.
“This is the second year that we’ve done this program but the first year that we’ve been able to travel,” said Logan Paul, a senior lecturer at the Luddy School and the instructor of the I494-95 course. “Last year, students worked with a group over Zoom all year. There was the Zoom element in working with the nonprofit during the fall semester, and it was great to actually meet with them during our trip.”
The students opened their trip by visiting the National Museum of Anthropology, the largest and most visited museum in Mexico, which features the Stone of the Sun—the most famous work of Mexican sculpture—giant stone heads from the Olmec civilization, and much more.
The main focus of the trip was learning about the impact and mission of New Comienzos, and how the Luddy students might be able to help.
“A large population of people New Comienzos works with have never really lived in Mexico or have no memories of living in Mexico,” Logan Paul said. “They may have been taken across the border when they were young children and lived in the United States until they were in their teens or early 20s. Then, if their parents are deported, they get deported, too. New Comienzos helps connect them with jobs or language lessons or places to live, giving them resources to get their feet under them and find some routine as they discover their new reality.”
New Comienzos has been requiring users to fill out a Google-based form so the organization could provide them with lists of resources that can offer assistance. The Luddy students are working on a platform that would allow New Comienzos to track the services they offer and to ensure clients receive the follow-up attention that need to find success.
“The Luddy students are building a system that can handle all of that in a uniform platform so New Comienzos can be more efficient in what they do,” Paul said.
The group also received a tour of Little Los Angeles, where New Comienzos is located, before touring UNAM, the largest university in Latin America. It also is home to the IU Mexico Gateway Office, which was instrumental in connecting students with New Comienzos and developing a successful trip for the class. UNAM is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its main campus was home to the 1968 Summer Olympics.
“It was great to meet and interact and be fully immersed in a new culture that I had never experienced before,” said Jacqueline Parero, a senior pursuing an informatics degree with a minor in business.
The group also toured Xochimilco, a borough of Mexico City known for its canals and colorful gondolas, and they visited Teotihuacán, which was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. Teotihuacán is an active Aztec archeological site that features the Pyramid of the Sun, the third-largest pyramid in the world.
The class closed their trip with a return visit to New Comienzos for a final meeting, some user testing, and a celebration of the partnership.
“Our opportunity to meet with volunteers from New Comienzos showed all of us how instrumental our work can be in people’s lives,” Parero said. “I really learned the scope of what we were doing and how many people it will effect.”
Parero was one of the students whose experience with the New Comienzos project has already translated into a full-time job after graduation.
“Being able to say I consulted for a nonprofit in Mexico shows a unique experience that most recruiters were not expecting,” Parero said.
The students also found a broader appreciation of technology in a culture that is foreign to them.
“I don’t think the students would have gotten as much out of the program if they were just working through Zoom with a potential client,” Paul said. “Being there in person and speaking to volunteers really color the picture of how much they’re doing for the community. It’s also great to gain experience with a different economy to understand how technology makes an impact outside of the students’ sphere of comfort.”
Previous groups from the Luddy School have traveled internationally for other class- and service-related engagements, but visiting Mexico presents smaller hurdles for students, including lower costs and travel times.
“We were one of the first groups from IU to travel internationally post-COVID,” Paul said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but Mexico City exceeded expectations that I and everybody else had for it two- and three-fold. This experience is closer to home and is just more accessible. Mexico and Mexico City is such a vibrant, thriving place that is embracing technology, and it can open avenues of innovation for business, trade, service, and a limitless number of areas.”
The department intends to continue this engagement with international capstone partners in the future.