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Students tell unique border stories in bilingual reporting class

May 2, 2023

Course brings together students from ASU, Mexico to find the untold stories of the U.S.-Mexico border

With its rich blend of cultures and economies, the U.S.-Mexico border is a shared region with shared stories. 

A class at Arizona State University is teaching students to find and tell those stories, along with the broader story of the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

“The gap between reality and how information is presented regarding Arizona and Mexico’s border has been distorted,” said Andrés Martinez, special advisor to ASU President Michael Crow and a professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “There’s an incredibly rich, diverse relationship between our two countries and those stories need to be told.”

Martinez is touting that relationship in a class titled Advanced Bilingual Reporting, a binational collaborative online international learning course that includes students from Mexico City’s Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). The class, which is supported with a U.S. State Department grantThe core funding support is through 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund and its partners, the Mary Jenkins Foundation along with the Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation and Sempra Energy, as part of a public-private sector collaboration between the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and Partners of the Americas that provide access to new models of exchange and training programs in the Americas. , is one of several offerings in Cronkite School that is part of the ASU in Mexico initiative.

The idea is to broaden the range of storytelling and develop cross-border journalism, said Mia Armstrong-López, managing editor of Symbiosis, a series of journalism-focused initiatives in Mexico. 

“This class was born out of a broader desire at ASU and Cronkite to become more connected to Mexico and deepen the school’s engagement with our neighboring country,” Armstrong-López said. “A lot of students in this class will be reporting about things related to this relationship, and this experience will help contextualize the relationship for them.”

For the past semester, students worked in groups to report, write, produce and publish multimedia stories on economic development, culture, environmental sustainability, cross-border health and technology.

They also explored and compared landscapes of the U.S. and Mexican media and audiences, and how they interact with each other. Students were also able to talk to guests from such outlets as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, NPR's "Radio Ambulante" and Mexico’s Reforma newspaper about their own reporting on the U.S.-Mexico relationship. 

Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, an investigative journalist and ITAM professor, co-taught the class with Martinez.

“I wanted to teach this class to show students they could cover both countries as an extended region with shared problems, shared interests, shared culture and shared communities,” said Ibarra Chaoul, who runs Defensores de la Democracia, a nonprofit organization that documents violence against Mexicans journalists. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how to think about the two countries from a different perspective and to cover it from a different perspective.”

Ibarra Chaoul said the class is helping her students, international relations and political science majors, understand and gain knowledge regarding journalism.

“I think brings out in them their preconceived notions of journalism while at the same time expands their options when they graduate,” she said.

A new perspective

On April 3, Ibarra Chaoul and eightThe eight ITAM students who flew to Arizona are Emiliano Carvajal González, Brenda Chávez Bracamontes, Miguel Vicente Santamaría Alcaraz, Paulina Gómez Baranda Díaz, Ana Paula Juárez Alonzo, Alexa López Sánchez Mendoza, Mariana Cabello Torres and María José Ponce Gudiño. ITAM students boarded a flight bound for Phoenix to complete a cultural confluence with their Cronkite School counterparts.

Their itinerary included tours of ASU's Tempe campus and athletics facilities, the Desert Botanical Garden and the Maricopa County Superior Court. They met with U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton and held meetings with The Arizona Republic, the Consulate of Mexico in Phoenix and AlientoAn education organization serving undocumented and immigrant families. representatives to discuss the binational relationship of their individual reporting activities.

Three people sitting at conference table talking

U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton (center) talks with students in the Advanced Bilingual Reporting class on April 5 in the Fulton Center on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The highlight of the visit was a daylong field trip to Nogales, Arizona, to gain a firsthand understanding of the challenges and opportunities that shape the border region — and the prosperity of both countries.

The first stop was the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, Arizona, where students were treated to a tour of the facility and conversation with Michael Dionne, a biological science technician with the International Boundary and Water Commission. He explained how water comes into the plant, how it’s treated and filtered, and where it ends up — and why that’s important for both countries.

“Because we have drought conditions in the Southwest, both the U.S. and Mexico face challenges of having enough water, so we have to come up with ways to treat water and benefit both sides,” Dionne said. “The key is to conserve as much water as possible so that our agriculture industry can have it to use for crops … and some of that has to go to replenish the aquifer.”

Dionne added the facility was built in 1972 and 10 plant employees treat approximately 15 million gallons a day. That information was especially helpful to Ryan Tisminezky, a Cronkite student who is reporting on water in the binational relationship.

“This tour is valuable because I am getting a little taste of what is being done right now and potentially what could be done in the future,” said Tisminezky, who expects to graduate in May with a master’s degree in mass communication. “In terms of the class, it’s like a mini-study abroad course because we’re able to immerse ourselves with people from a different country. I’m getting a new perspective.”

Students and staff at roundtable

Mia Armstrong-López (front right), ASU in Mexico coordinator, asks questions about water issues at the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, Arizona, on Thursday, April 5, 2023. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

A noon luncheon doubled as an information session at Zula’s, a Mexican food restaurant in the heart of downtown Nogales. Guest speakers included Nogales Mayor Jorge Maldonado; Jaime Chamberlain, president and owner of Chamberlain Distributing Inc.; and Arizona Republic reporter José-Ignacio Castañeda.

“I’m very grateful you guys are here because you’re going to take back what you know and report on the reality of the border situation, and then go spread the word,” said Maldonado, a former city councilmember who successful ran for mayor in 2022. “For a long time, nobody was really telling our story — that we have $3 billion worth of fruits and vegetables and $26 billion in manufactured goods coming through our ports. That’s a good story to tell.”

Chamberlain said 57% of our nation’s fruits and vegetables comes through Nogales, which is vital to feeding Americans. He added that Nogales has a specific focus.

“I have visited many border towns and I have to tell you that we’re not all the same,” said Chamberlain, whose business represents 13 different farmers in Mexico and distributes their products throughout the country. “We are very different here in Nogales. We have specific economic benefits living here, which our state and federal partners have been a tremendous supporter of. When people ask me what we do, I say plainly, ‘We feed North America.’”

Castañeda, a Cronkite School graduate who reports on the border for The Arizona Republic, said his beat is interesting, diverse and rarely boring. He covers everything from commerce, crime and immigration to government agencies and the occasional ribbon cutting. He said his beat is “very personal.”

“My family’s history is tied to the border. Both of my grandparents crossed the border to work near Yuma,” Castañeda said. “I gravitate to stories about immigrants and the immigrant experience.”

The day ended with a stop at the Arizona Department of Transportation, which straddles the border. The function of this facility is to help freight move more efficiently while ensuring that commercial vehicles can operate safely on state highways, said Joseph Dopadre.

“We get about 380,000 to 390,000 trucks coming through here per year,” said Dopadre, a lieutenant with the Nogales Port of Entry. “Our job is to enforce the safety of these trucks through inspection, permitting, weight and making sure all of the paperwork is correct.”

Dopadre said his department is equipped with the latest technology – weight motion scales, facial recognition software, license plate readers, cameras, scanners and devices to keep things orderly and safe.

“We try to do the best we can do to get you in and out, but if we find out you skipped a step or have a flat tire, brake issues, or if we see a visual problem, we’ll send you back for an inspection,” Dopadre said. “Technology is helping us do our jobs safer and more efficiently.”

Lessons from the field

Being in the field can provide a different and richer experience than the classroom, and when the field is the border, layers of complexity are peeled away, according to several of the students.

“We all have our different viewpoints and I want to be a well-rounded journalist,” said Roxanne De La Rosa, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication in May. “My mom is Mexican and my dad was undocumented when he came to the U.S. I know what immigrants go through when they get to this country, so I want to be able to speak on those issues as a journalist."

De La Rosa spent the semester working on a story about a Yuma resident who crossed the border to Mexico to receive in vitro fertilization (IVF). She had three children as a result.

“She was a registered nurse, had a good job, but could not afford IVF in the States. She’s one of Mexico’s success stories,” De La Rosa said. “My story explores the inequities in the health-care system in the States and why medical tourism is becoming attractive to Americans.”

Alexa López Sánchez Mendoza is exploring a similar topic — the mental health of female immigrants who cross the border.

“There’s a lot of chaos at the border and a lot of vulnerable people coming from Central America are being taken advantage of by organized crime,” said Sánchez Mendoza, an international relations major at ITAM and editor of her school newspaper, El Supuesto. “They are dealing with the heat and the cold, coyotes, crossing the river, law enforcement and the fear of being sexually assaulted. It’s very dangerous and almost like a war experience.”

Sánchez Mendoza said her goal is to become a newspaper columnist to highlight immigrant issues in a more even-handed and humanitarian way.

“A lot of today’s (border) coverage doesn’t really tell you much,” Sánchez Mendoza said. “It’s more political coverage than anything else.”

ITAM student Paulina Gómez Baranda Diaz is also reporter for El Supuesto. She noticed an emerging trend in women’s professional soccer: Americans crossing the border to play in Mexico. She spoke to several athletes for her upcoming piece, including ASU’s Cori Sullivan, who now plays for Cruz Azul.

"(Cori) told me that she liked playing in Mexico better because the fans are amazing and the stadiums are bigger,” said Baranda Díaz, an international relations major. “It had nothing to do with money … it’s all about the fans and the energy that Mexico gives her."

Baranda Díaz said the class has pushed her in directions she didn’t always want to go but came out better for it.

“I’m not an extroverted person and I get anxious approaching total strangers,” Baranda Diaz said. “But I like how I’ve learned how to reach people and make connections. There aren’t a lot of female sports writers in Mexico, and we definitely have a different perspective about soccer than the men.”

Mexican native and Cronkite School student Paula Soria is also on a sports trek. However, her sport of choice is baseball. She’s writing about several Mexican nationals who came to the U.S. to play Major League Baseball.

“It’s a journey that usually starts at age 4 or 5, and it’s not always easy,” said Soria, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication in December. “The main challenges are usually language, culture and home sickness.”

Soria said the class has deeply impacted her writing and perspective and looks forward to writing more diverse stories.

“I came into this class thinking it was going to be about the U.S. versus Mexico,” Soria said. “But what I’ve discovered is that they are connected in a very profound way.

“They work together. They are partners.”

Group of people

Students and faculty from the Advanced Bilingual Reporting class pose for a group photo at the Nogales Port of Entry on Thursday, April 5, in Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News.

Other stories from the Advanced Bilingual Reporting class will cover topics including language, migration, tourism, climate change, water policy, music and tech governance. Look for them to be published on Twitter at @ASU_MX.

Top photo: Fourth-year ASU visual journalist Paula Soria helps fourth-year political relations student Emilio Carvajal, from ITAM, take a photo on Thursday, April 5, at the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, Arizona. A dozen students — eight international relations students from ITAM and four journalism and mass communications students from ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication — spent the day on the border learning about water issues, agricultural produce and its transportation from Mexico as part of a course collaboration between the Cronkite School and ITAM. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News.

ASU grad brings innovation to US Air Force

May 2, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Austin Lamar Wiggins has always been interested in innovation. He joined the U.S. military right out of high school, and for the last few years of his career he has been serving as a consultant on a variety of innovation-related projects with the Air Force and Department of Defense. Wiggins in military uniform smiling at the camera Austin Lamar Wiggins, an ASU Online student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, is fascinated by the intersections between innovation, technology and policy, as well as the implications of these factors on society as a whole through a philosophical lens Download Full Image

Working in this space for such a long time prompted him to look for more formal innovation education to supplement his practical experience. Seeking a degree program was really Wiggins’s “aha moment,” and he’s getting ready to graduate with the program that drew him to Arizona State University in the first place — a Bachelor of Science in innovation in society from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, which is part of the College of Global Futures

As an ASU Online student, he cites the non-traditional class structure as a key to his success at ASU. 

“We’re seeing an evolving trend of people being able to go to school online and still integrate to a significant degree,” said Wiggins. “People make the argument that the education quality is different, online versus in-person, but what I have come to understand is that online learning simply facilitates a different kind of learning that is good for certain cognitive types.” 

He mentioned that he, like many other students, can get overstimulated or easily distracted in social situations. Whether it’s the echo of the professor’s voice or the clicking sounds of a classmate typing out notes in the back of the room, there are many aspects of being in a large lecture hall that can make learning challenging. By taking courses online, Wiggins was able to create his own best environments to study while also finding opportunities to actively apply his coursework to his day job. 

After graduation, Wiggins plans to continue his education and pursue a Master of Science in public interest technology, also offered through the College of Global Futures.

He is fascinated by the intersections between innovation, technology and policy, as well as the implications of these factors on society as a whole through a philosophical lens. He cited the widespread interest in ChatGPT as an example: how people have responded to generative AI so far and how innovation like this has the potential to influence the way people interact with one another. Longer term, Wiggins hopes to build upon this line of inquiry and dive deeper into this field in a doctoral program. 

Read on to hear more about his time at ASU in his own words.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

Answer: In one of my core classes, we read an article from the 1980s called “Do Artifacts Have Politics.” It’s a chapter excerpt from Langdon Winner where he talks about how technology isn’t just a benign thing that people can use well or use badly — rather, these things that people create, even as part of their design, have real effects on people. 

For me, as a futurist, as a technologist, and as a person involved in innovation, to realize that it’s not just about the creation and use of technology that we should pay attention to, but also the ways that technology can privilege some people or others, or fundamentally reshape the way that we interact as people. It has political power and meanings behind it. Probably one of the most fundamental knowledge shifts for me, in fact, is that this article changed what I wanted to do as my master’s degree. Up until reading that, I was probably going to go into a sociology-related master’s degree. After reading that, I decided being involved in technology policy and the philosophy of technology is actually closer to where I wanted to go. It shaped me in a really interesting way. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: Lauren Keeler. She doesn't know that she did, is the thing, but it’s in a really interesting way.

So I’ve read a bunch of her papers. I am a School for the Future of Innovation in Society Undergraduate Research Fellow, and she’s my professor for that. There’s a paper that she wrote that I read recently that talked about some characteristics that people should have when dealing with cross-disciplinary problems. It was really interesting to see myself in that paper without her really knowing I existed at the time she wrote it. I thought, “Oh, this describes a lot of my background.” 

Now, when I’m engaging with her as an undergraduate research fellow and in my last course (which she’s teaching), I’ve been realizing that she has in a way helped me recognize that there’s a place for somebody like me, and recognize all the ways that I intersect with various identities. She’s helped me realize that I have a place, and that’s meant more to me than any academic lesson that I could learn. It’s probably been the most important thing that I’ve gotten, and I got that from her. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: This will be a little bit of a controversial take. There is learning as a means, and learning as an end. With learning as means, you make sure you get your A’s or B’s or whatever your’re aiming for, and your learning is for the sake of facilitating that letter grade for the class you’re in.

My recommendation for people is to stop caring about grades so much. Instead, put that effort into learning about what interests you within the specific classes you are taking. You will 100% forget anything that you didn’t really want to learn anyway. Instead, focus on learning as an end — go back to enjoying what you’re learning just for the sake of it. I think the more that people do that, you might actually see better academic results anyway since you’re finding how your interests align with your courses. 

Sometimes that’s harder than other times. I had a class that was about politics, economics and innovation. Probably the hardest class I took, not necessarily because of the material but because I had trouble aligning my interests with a specific subset of the class. What it did help me do is learn a lot about how tied innovation is the economic structure of a government. I did enough to pass the class, but a majority of my time was spent learning about how innovation is different in a capitalist society versus a socialist one versus others, and what happens when money is controlled in different ways. Overall, learning for learning’s sake is something that I feel like we need to get back to. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Because I have a full-time job and because I have a family, I didn't necessarily have the chance to have a single place where I could study. It makes for an interesting dilemma because you have to figure out how to create the environment to study wherever you are. So I had my iPad and a pair of headphones that I keep around with me wherever I go, because, you know, I might have a free lunch one day at work where I have a free hour to use for studying. Or if I’m at home and AJ, my 5-year-old, is asleep, I could spend an hour or two studying. For me it was more about how do I bring the conditions for the best studying with me wherever I go, as opposed to finding the best place.

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures