August 18, 2020

An Online Education Pioneer: Gilman and AlumniTIES Alumni Builds Tech Skills Locally


Exchange Alumna and educator Bianca Alvarado inspires and trains youth in digital media and technology through her Alumni TIES-funded program, La Casa Azul.
Bianca Alvarado was ahead of the COVID online education rush. In September 2019 the AlumniTIES and Gilman scholar launched La Casa Azul Productions, a program designed to train Hispanic youth in digital media and technology in the border town of Chula Vista, California, and she quickly realized that the in-person workshops weren’t working for her students.

So Bianca moved the program online and credits the AlumniTIES seminar, “Stronger American Cities: Closing the Skills Gap and Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” for giving her the ideas for the work she’s doing now, as well as for the funding for the project.

“Thinking back, the seminar was making me think three steps ahead of the world we’re living now,” Bianca says, reflecting on how she and her team started building an online platform and adding on components to the lessons offered through La Casa Azul to optimize the online learning through trial and error.

But that wasn’t what surprised Bianca most during the pandemic as she’s been giving Hispanic youth the chance to learn skills for 21st century careers. Her program is popular with adults as well, with those learners using the courses to do everything from building restaurant websites to receive online orders during the pandemic to moving their businesses online for greater visibility. The program also been popular in Mexico and Latin America -proof that the aims of La Casa Azul have a more widespread impact and are in greater need than imagined.

Currently the program has 160 students officially registered, but Bianca estimates that her actual students, based on the views of the Spanish and English language videos on the program’s YouTube channel, number much more than that.

Local students who are in the community are vetted and are then given scholarships to cover their website costs after they’ve gone through the course, while also answering why they want to be in the program.

“The responses that we get are very powerful,” Bianca says. “Right now with COVID, their parents are losing their jobs. Students that come from low-income communities were already in struggling households, so that is the most powerful part for me, that they get templates of the websites they want to create and why they want to create it. They’re so passionate.”