I became interested in User-Experience research during my Ph.D. program, where I worked with Dr. Liza Potts and the Writing, Information, and Digital Experience research center on several projects related to women in technology, social media research, and writing program development. During this time, I also had the opportunity to work with community organizations and contribute to community engagement projects, which include working as a translations coordinator for the Language Services Department at The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, facilitating a technology summer camp for Indigenous girls through the guidance of Dr. Estrella Torrez, and working with youth to write and share stories (which you can read more about here). Through these experiences, I decided that after graduating and as I continued my career, I wanted to focus on building infrastructures and programs that threaded together my interests in community engagement and technology design, specifically with the linguistically and ethnically diverse communities that fuel both my history and my work.
It was at this time that I began working at The University of Texas at El Paso, which sits on the Mexico/US border and which hosts an approximately 90% Latinx (largely Mexican and Mexican american) student population. The first thing I learned after moving to El Paso is that my new community here already inhabits the connections between community engagement, language, and technology that I only imagined during my graduate study. In this community, I have the opportunity to meet incredibly brilliant students who navigate across physical, linguistic, and technological borders they visit family and/or have homes in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, communicate in multiple languages (including Spanishes and Englishes) through a wide range of apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and, perhaps most emphatically in terms of seeking an education, as they navigate an academic institution that is still largely driven by White, Western, English-dominant values. In this context, I also have the privilege to work with international graduate students who bring incredible assets and navigate tremendous institutional challenges as they pursue their degrees in the U.S. after leaving their families and homes in countries like Ghana, Nepal, Ukraine, and Mexico.
While the community and the students I have the privilege to work with in my current institution have invaluable assets that they can bring to scholarship and practices in community engagement and technology design, due to issues like institutionalized racism and oppression, these students do not always have avenues to enact their skills and see themselves as technology designers who do and can influence the development of tools and technologies that can inform our contemporary international, multilingual, cross-cultural realities. For this reason, with the collaboration and wisdom of my colleagues, we decided to pursue this grant opportunity through the Kapor Center, establishing a mentorship network that will allow students like Bibhushana, Estefania, Tetyana, and Nora to practice and connect with technology designers across and beyond the United States. I am so grateful and excited to be part of this team.