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14-Year-old Latina Develops Alexa App to Help Immigrants

Fourteen-year-old Suguey Carmona wanted to create an accessible resource for immigrants and came up with an Alexa skill to help answer questions in both Spanish and English. The teenager coded the program in both languages after seeing her own family struggle with access to resources.

“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 told NBC News.

Now Alexa can answer common questions like “can I get a driver’s license?” or “How long does it take to get a visa?” through “Immigration Bonds,” an Alexa Skill (similar to an app) the student at KIPP Brave High School in Austin, Texas developed. After a sixth-grade coding class piqued her interest, she joined Hello World, a K-12 computer science program available in Austin and San Francisco. This exposure inspired her to want to bridge a gap for immigrants in her community both in communication and access to information. Carmona- who is of Mexican descent – worked on the coding process for months after interviewing immigrants to learn their most pressing questions and research the answers.

“There is no doubt that this new Alexa Skill will help others, and that Suguey, at age 14, is well on her way to becoming a key influencer. The ability to design an Alexa Skill from scratch is something most developers do not learn until after college,” Hello World founder, Sabina Bharwani wrote in post on The 74 Million. The level of skill it took to develop the program is beyond her years and it serves as an indicator of what girls, especially girls of color, are capable of when they have access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

According to research from National Girls Collaborative Project, a STEM organization, found that while in general male and female students perform equally well in math and science exams, racial and income gaps exists that affect black, Latinx and Native Americans most. That disparity carries on in the workforce with Google’s tech workforce being only 17 percent female, 2 percent Latino and 1 percent African American in 2014.

“Immigration Bonds” is available to download through the Alexa Skills store on Amazon and Carmona plans to eventually add it as an app in the Apple store as well. She settled on Alexa Skills because it’s the most accessible and doesn’t rely on keywords to function

“Alexa would reply no matter what you respond,” Carmona told NBC News. “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.”

With Alexa-friendly products like the Amazon Echo becoming increasingly common in homes, Carmona’s creation is one way that immigrant families in need of information – especially in Spanish – can find the resources they need.

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