Things That Matter

14-Year-Old Latina Student Developed Technology Allowing People To Ask Alexa Immigration Questions In English And Spanish

Alexa, am I allowed to get a driver’s license? Alexa, how long does it take to get a visa? These are the kinds of questions immigrants are now able to ask the virtual Amazon assistant in Spanish and English, thanks to “Immigration Bonds,” an Alexa Skill created by a 14-year-old Latina.

Suguey Carmona, a high school student at KIPP Brave High School in Austin, Texas, developed an Alexa Skill that allows English- and Spanish-speaking immigrants to get answers to questions related to their rights.

Carmona first developed an interest in coding after taking a computer class in the sixth grade. She then joined Hello World, a K-12 computer science program based in Austin and San Francisco. She became exposed to different programming languages and discovered a way to meld her love of coding with an idea to help out immigrant families in her community.

The 14-year-old set out to help her own friends and family with this app.

I chose to work on this technology because I see my own friends and family who have questions and who are struggling to make a living, and I thought maybe I should do something about it,” Carmona, whose family is from Mexico, told NBC News.

Carmona’s technology helps create a judgement-free safe zone for people to ask questions freely.

Language barriers and lack of access to information can be a major source of confusion for immigrants and can prevent them from accessing the services they need, according to numerous studies. Carmona’s technology addresses those challenges by providing a judgment-free zone to ask questions at people’s pace and in their own language.

The teen worked on everything, from research to coding, to develop “Immigration Bonds.”

After interviewing people about their most pressing immigration questions and conducting research on the logistics of obtaining paperwork, finding employment and navigating other areas of life as an immigrant, Carmona began working on the technology, which she named “Immigration Bonds.” And so began a monthslong process paved with coding challenges. “I’d work on it for hours each day,” Carmona said. “I’d start a new paper and it would crash and break and I’d be like, ‘Oh, shoot. Now I have to start over again.”

Sabina Bharwani, the founder of Hello World, said that her team assisted Carmona on her app but they also let her struggle, which “made all the difference” when the teen was successful.

“Suguey struggled to use the Alexa interface, which is usually used by developers with 10-15 years of experience,” Bharwani said. “It was a steep learning curve, but when she mastered it, it meant more.” Throughout this time, Carmona experimented with different ways to present the technology. She said she wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be a video game for children or a phone app, but she ultimately decided on issuing it as an Alexa Skill because she liked “how you didn’t need certain keywords for it to work.”

Alexa would reply no matter what you respond,” Carmona said. “The problem with text boxes is that if you don’t put in certain words or phrase things a certain way, it won’t read it and that can make it really complicated for people who are trying to use it to get answers.”

After developing a prototype, Carmona tested the technology with her friends and family and made adjustments as she saw fit.

Once Alexa users download ”Immigration Bonds,” they can ask Alexa questions directly, as they would for Apple’s Siri or other voice-automated technology. For example, if a person wants to know whether they can apply for a driver’s license depending on their immigration status, the app will respond by asking them where they live, for example, so that it can provide the user details based on their geographical location, as laws differs by state.

Latinos are vastly underrepresented in computer science.

Latinos in computer science (aka. coders) only make up 7 percent of the STEM workforce, according to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center. And at Google — one of the largest tech companies — only 1.4 percent of its new tech hires in 2019 were Latina and less than 4 percent were Latino. This is why stories like Carmona’s  draw attention to the importance of endeavors like Hello World and Computer Science Education Week — which recently took place globally from Dec. 9-15 — which foster students’ interest in computer science.

Those who are interested can download the “Immigration Bonds” app on the Alexa Skills store on the Amazon website.Though the technology was published in the Amazon app store earlier this year, Carmona plans to keep adapting it and eventually publish it as an Apple app too.

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This Group of Latino Students In the Bronx Had Their Names Flown Into Space on NASA’s Mars Rover

Things That Matter

This Group of Latino Students In the Bronx Had Their Names Flown Into Space on NASA’s Mars Rover

Photo via Alejandro Mundo

Everyone has a teacher that has come into their life and gone above and beyond. A teacher that has changed your life for the better. For a group of Latino students at Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, that teacher is Alejandro Mundo.

Science teacher Alejandro Mundo encouraged his astronomy class to send their names into the NASA’s Mars space rover.

Not only is Mr. Mundo a beloved high school science teacher, he’s also an associate NASA researcher. Apparently, NASA was the one who proposed the idea to Mr. Mundo in the first place. NASA reached out to Mr. Mundo and asked if the 25 astronomy students would send their names, stenciled on chips, on the Mars Rover.

NASA believed the idea would symbolize a personal touch between humanity and the mystery and wonder of space. They also liked the idea of a group of Latino students–a group that is underrepresented in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)–and the historic space mission.

Alejandro Mundo’s primary reason for becoming a science teacher in the first place was to get more inner-city kids of color into the STEM fields.

As of now, Black and Latinos make up between 8 and 9 percent of STEM occupations. Kingsbridge International High School, the school that Mr. Mundo teaches at, is 93 percent Latino. 86 percent of those students are leaning English as a second language.

“The only way we can change that in the future is by starting with this current generation,” Mundo told NBC News. “So by igniting my students with a passion for science, that is the key that I have seen that can make a difference. Little by little, we will be changing those statistics.”

Born in Mexico, Alejandro Mundo came over to the US when he was 12-years-old, hardly knowing any English.

The adults around him–who were supposed to support him–told him that he would end up “cleaning bathrooms” or “working in a factory”. Mundo knew he was destined for more than that. “No, I’m going to college,” he told himself. “I’m going to get a career, and I’m going to use this career not for my personal growth but to help others, specifically people like me.”

Now, Alejandro Mundo inspires his majority-Latino students to also reach for the stars–literally and figuratively. He does that by engaging them on a creative level, like when he took his class on a field trip to the NYC Center for Aerospace and Applied Mathematics. The center showed his students what its like to be an astronaut. They also viewed a simulated space mission to Mars.

Alejandro Mundo has directly inspired his students both with his teaching methods, and with his own example of success.

In fact, his students love him so much that they created the “Mundology Club”, a club dedicated to STEM fields–and an obvious tribute to their favorite teacher.

“I couldn’t have this opportunity in my country,” said one of Mundo’s students, Dominican-born Jorge Fernandez, about the opportunity for his name to “travel” to Mars. “I feel like our teacher made that possible. It’s really important for us Latinos to get into it, because, basically, we can do a lot.”

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There’s A Mysterious “Bat Cave” Full Of Blind Snakes Near Cancun And It’s Creepy AF

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There’s A Mysterious “Bat Cave” Full Of Blind Snakes Near Cancun And It’s Creepy AF

YE AUNG THU/AFP via Getty Images

Mexico is full of incredible natural beauty, so it’s no wonder that it’s frequently one of the world’s most visited destinations. People love to visit the picturesque beaches, the ancient ruins, lively cities, and relaxed pueblos. But we would imagine that few people would add this mysterious ‘bat cave’ to their list of destinations, considering it’s full of blind snakes that hang from the ceiling to catch their prey. 

Mexico’s mysterious ‘bat cave’ is part of a truly unique ecosystem. 

Cancun is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s home to some of the world’s greatest beaches and tons of adventure at cenotes and Mayan ruins. But, apparently, it’s also home to a unique ecosystem that includes a so-called bat cave home to thousands of blind snakes that hang upside down. Yikes!

The cave, located less than 180 miles from Cancun’s spectacular beaches, is home to a species of blind, deaf snakes that feed mainly on flying bats.”This is the only place in the world where this happens,” Arturo Enrique Bayona Miramontes, the biologist who discovered it, told Newsweek.

The cave system remained completely unknown to tourists and surprised many scientists, who marveled as the jungle was peeled away to reveal another species, another hidden natural world.

The “cave of the hanging snakes” has a 65-foot wide mouth from which thousands of bats of seven different species swarm out every night, seeking food in and around Lake Chichancanab, some 2 miles away. When the bats return from nighttime feeding, some become food for the snakes.

The cave is a bat paradise – unless they become food for the blind and deaf snakes.

The giant cave is home to hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of bats who cling to the cave’s roof. Joining them in the cave are a unique species of blind and deaf snakes that strike unsuspecting bats as they fly by.

The technique of the yellow-red rat snake is frighteningly precise, Bayona Miramontes said. “These snakes do not see or hear, but they can feel the vibrations of the bats flying, and they use that opportunity to hunt them with their body, suffocating their victims before gobbling them down.”

If you’re feeling adventurous, the cave is open to a limited number of visitors.

The cave is located nearby a very small Mayan community in Kantemó, on the Yucatan peninsula. Although the village is so small that it only has one church, the community has been working hard to protect this unique ecosystem.

Only 10 visitors are allowed inside the cave at a time and no photography is permitted. Since the pandemic began, the cave has been closed but it will reopen when the health department of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo allows tourism again.

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