UnidosUS Latino conference teaches students to be future changemakers
After enjoying the nation’s capital this summer, a delegation of Arizona State University students who attended UnidosUS 2018 in Washington, D.C., are starting a new academic year with the skills and inspiration to act.
When ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services office offered to sponsor students and accompany them to attend the gathering, which UnidosUS described as a “public commitment to the path forward for the Latino community,” 12 students involved with Access ASU; El Concilio, a coalition of Latino student organizations at ASU; and transborder issues jumped at the opportunity.
For most of the students, it was their first time in Washington.
“They took the chance and ran with it — they took in the sights but also walked into the halls of Congress, visited Rep. Ruben Gallego’s congressional office and returned to ASU ready to advocate for change and put what they learned into practice,” said Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of outreach partnerships with Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU. The attendees were even able to connect with ASU students in Washington and learn about inside-the-Beltway internships.
The conference, which is in its 50th year, provided workshops about the landscape and forecast on Latino priorities, student loan repayment, how to build credit and wealth, bilingual resources, educational equity for Latinos and how to shine during your career search. ASU students got to experience the first year of the Future Changemaker track, which focused on issues relevant to them.
“The new track let students focus on the skill-building that’s so essential to college students — getting out of debt, learning about personal branding and concrete job skills and more. But they also really connected with the speakers, who talked candidly about their intersectional struggles and inspired the students to be more bold and fearless in their pursuits,” said Hidalgo. “I think we all came back fired up and inspired to change things at home.”
The 'Coco' effect
Andrea Garza, a senior at ASU studying psychology, said that one thing she gained from the conference was that she further understands why it is important to vote.
“(I plan to use) the knowledge that I learned from the conference to help others understand how important our impact is in the Latino community,” she said.
One of her favorite workshops discussed lack of representation of Latino culture in media. “When it is portrayed, (the workshop addressed) the lack of cohesive culture,” she said. She said one positive example was "Coco;" those involved in making the movie reached out to people in the Latino community in order to get their input on the film and make sure it was culturally conscious.
Garza said that during her time at the conference, she wanted to get a better idea of the goals of the UnidosUS organization, which was formerly known as the National Council of La Raza. What she left with was the knowledge that the community and everyone in it can make a big difference: “It was just really eye-opening. Some of these people started off with literally nothing. You really can come from nothing and still make an impact. We all come from a different story, but we all come from a very universal community.”
The sleeping giant
Erika Galindo, a senior at ASU majoring in justice studies and transborder studies, said she wants to go to law school to study immigration law; for her, attending the conference was a way to network and harness the power of everyday people.
“(The conference) really gave me insight on how the Hispanic community is making efforts (in voter registration). They feel the Hispanic community has been a huge sleeping giant, so to speak, in that they have this huge voice that could impact the political sphere.”
Galindo’s favorite workshops included one that focused on celebrating Hispanic journalists telling the stories of their communities. Another workshop that stood out to her was the Future Changemakers breakfast.
“They had the speaker (Michelle Poler) come out and talk about facing your fears. It really inspired me to not give in to my fears and actually go out there and do what I should be doing without giving into whatever I have in my mind,” she said.
Galindo said that the UnidosUS conference was important for students to attend because it offers the workshops to motivate them, to inspire them and to give them the information they need to implement what they learned at the conference in the real world. She said it also gives students the opportunity to speak to people they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet.
The problems and the solutions
Summer research sizzles at ASU
Students gain valuable skills in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program
This summer, more than 50 undergraduate students from across the nation studied in labs at Arizona State University to develop solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems.
The students are part of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that provides valuable educational experiences for college students through active participation in science, engineering and education research at ultramodern facilities. REU projects offer universities a chance to tap a diverse talent pool and broaden student participation in use-inspired research initiatives with meaningful impact.
By integrating research and education, REU aims to attract students to science and engineering programs, retain them and prepare them for careers in those fields.
NSF is interested in increasing the number of women, minorities and people with disabilities who participate in research, and particular attention is paid to recruiting students from underrepresented groups. REU sites across the country are also encouraged to involve students from communities and academic institutions where research programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are limited, including two-year colleges.
REU students participated in integrative, hands-on research with a focus on bio-geotechnical engineering, drinking water and industrial wastewater treatment, sensor device design and algorithm development, solar energy and photovoltaics. Participants helped develop solutions for a broad scope of challenges, from facilitating access to clean water to restoring degraded landscapes and revolutionizing electricity generation.
The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering hosted REU programs this summer at sites in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, the NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment, the Sensor Signal and Information Processing Center and the NSF Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center.
REU provides the building blocks to succeed
Jeremy Nez, a civil engineering major at Scottsdale Community College, has been interested in creating sustainable, resilient and environmentally compatible solutions for geotechnical infrastructure since he took a tour of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics with the Phoenix Indian Center as a high school student.
Last year, he participated in the center’s Young Scholars program for his first exposure to research. This summer, he returned to the center to complete the REU program.
Nez worked on a bio-inspired process to stabilize and control clay swelling, teaming with Associate Professor Claudia Zapata, postdoctoral research associate Hamed Khodadadi Tirkolaei and graduate mentor Hani Alharbi, a doctoral student in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering.
Many types of infrastructure are built with a clay foundation beneath them. When some clay foundation soils come in contact with water, they expand dramatically. Clay swelling is problematic because it contributes to cracked foundations, walls, driveways, swimming pools and roads — costing millions of dollars each year.
Nez helped establish protocols for conducting efficient and economically competitive stabilization of problematic clay soils by comparing compaction characteristics of clay-treated soil with plant-based silica extracted from rice husk. Results of this research will help prevent and mitigate damage caused by clay swelling.
“I liked how the REU program was interdisciplinary,” Nez said. “You have biologists and geologists as well as civil, geotechnical and mechanical engineers working together to improve civilizations. There’s not just one major in this program, it’s very diverse.”
Nez’s two summers of research at the center have inspired him to transfer to ASU. He’ll start an undergraduate program in civil engineering this fall. Nez is one of four students participating in the REU program this summer who plan to transfer to the university.
Interdisciplinary experience drives plan for the future
Jacquelyn Schmidt, a major in engineering physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, also wanted to study at ASU based on the interdisciplinary component of the Sensor Signal and Information Processing Center REU program.
“I have a lot of interests: data science, internet of things, machine learning and electrical engineering,” Schmidt said. “The SenSIP REU was one of the only summer programs I came across that touched on all of those areas.”
Schmidt’s research project focused on reducing turtle bycatch, which happens when turtles drown from being caught in fishing nets. Schmidt said marine biology research suggests the number of sea turtles accidentally caught can be dramatically reduced with the use of light-emitting diode, or LED, lights.
“Several research groups are continuing this research today, but a clear problem has emerged,” she said. “The LED lights are battery powered. When the batteries run out, they’re just thrown into the ocean.”
Schmidt’s team included Associate Professor Blain Christen, postdoctoral fellows Mark Bailly and Martyn Fisher, Associate Professor Michael Goryll and Assistant Research Professor Jesse Senko. They sought to find a more sustainable solution to this problem by using renewable energy to power LEDs on fishing nets.
For this project, Schmidt studied different types of renewable energy sources to determine which would be ideal for potential designs. Given that the nets are submerged in water but dried in the sun, Schmidt considered tidal and wave energy as options as well as solar charging.
“Turtle bycatch is a huge global issue and is impacting communities in Mexico, North Carolina, Hawaii and Indonesia, just to name a few,” Schmidt said. “In the future, we’re hoping to see our prototypes mass produced and used in fishing enterprises around the world.”
Schmidt said the research experience gave her valuable skills in developing a real-world product. She’s more confident in her abilities to take an idea through the product development process, from the original concept to a physical device.
Going into the SenSIP REU program, Schmidt wanted to determine whether engineering graduate school would be on her horizon.
“So far, the answer seems to be yes,” she said.
Changing the world one research experience at a time
These research centers in the Fulton Schools represent four of about 600 different REU sites across the U.S. For more than 30 years, the NSF has funded nearly 9,000 undergraduate students each year in the REU program. REU participants gain in-depth scientific research experience under the guidance of faculty members and research mentors to learn how to develop solutions.
Read more about all the REU programs hosted in the Fulton Schools this summer.