NOVEMBER 22, 2021 — Located in a vital corridor of activity in a historically underrepresented community, the UTSA Westside Community Center is connecting human intellectual and economic capacity to empower the lives of the people it serves.
The center’s latest effort involves bridging the digital divide of residents living in the heart of San Antonio’s West Side. The student-led group, known as the Digital Inclusion Ambassadors, serve as a model for community engaged scholarship—working to improve digital literacy in a community that lacks amenities common to other neighborhoods.
Under the direction of Roger Enriquez, executive director of Westside Community Partnerships, and UTSA public administration professor Chris Reddick, the ambassadors embed themselves within the community to help residents with their technological needs.
“We have a unique opportunity to help identify and bridge digital literacy gaps and improve people’s lives by unleashing the enormous potential of the internet,” Enriquez explained.
The initiative is based on a 2020 digital inclusion survey conducted by Enriquez, Reddick and a team of researchers with the UTSA Policy Studies Center, in partnership with the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation and Bexar County Commissioner’s Court.
The survey, which helped to identify the resources needed, also found that broadband connectivity, device access and digital competency were significantly lagging in San Antonio’s West Side District 5 compared to the rest of the county.
Socioeconomic status and the Spanish-English language barrier are among the primary drivers for the digital divide in District 5, so the ambassadors provided access to the internet for those who needed it, as well as bilingual assistance with internet searches, online research, accessing and applying for social services online, troubleshooting, printing, copying, scanning and lessons about internet security and privacy.
The West Side’s small business owners represent an entrepreneurial spirit that has been historically underserved. The ambassadors also work to bridge that gap by providing support to area businesses.
Elena’s Café owner Elena Gomez Peña previously worked with the UTSA Small Business Development Center, which guided her through the Paycheck Protection Program financial aid application process. UTSA biology student and digital ambassador Joi Sheppard-Udoh then set up a profit and loss summary spreadsheet for Elena’s Café that allowed Gomez Peña to track her total income, purchases, gross profit, net profit and total expenses for the year.
“I am so grateful for the help I received from UTSA students because I was able to keep my doors open by finding needed government assistance for my employees,” Gomez Peña said.
UTSA alumna and digital ambassador Caitlyn Deleon ’21 assisted clients with items like computer setup and internet safety, while David Rios ’21 worked with others to break down their own psycho-social barriers to using the internet.
“I enjoyed seeing how the community, especially seniors, are wanting to learn—to become familiar with modern technology is inspiring,” Deleon said. “It’s very rewarding to know that the help they receive here at the center will improve their quality of life.”
Seeing the personal impact that the students have on the community is a true inspiration to Enriquez and everyone involved with the initiative.
“We want this to become personal to UTSA—not just at the leadership level, but at the department level, all the way down to individuals, faculty, students and even staff, so that everyone sees this collectively as our mission at the university,” Enriquez said.
Don’t know where to start in looking for a job or internship? Virtually join in a live job/internship search navigation lab-style workshop. Follow along to bookmark and save opportunities you are interested in applying for.Student Union (SU 2.02.04,) Main Campus
Don’t know where to start in looking for a job or internship? 🔍 Primary platforms utilized during this workshop are Handshake and LinkedIn. Some industry-specific job search boards may be utilized.Student Union (SU 2.02.04,) Main Campus
First Friday Stargazing gives anyone free access to the night sky using university telescopes and teaching equipment. Weather permitting, experienced astronomers will provide a handful of telescopes of varying designs, give training on how each operates, and point to various astronomical objects that may appear in the sky for that given time of the year. If you have a telescope and do not know how to operate it, feel free to bring it and get instructions on its use.4th Floor of Flawn Science Building, Main Campus
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