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Students create app for Day of the Dead

Christian Myers | Thursday, March 1, 2012

In honor of Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a group of Notre Dame students created an education application for iPads and iPhones. The students were working with Tracy Grimm, head of the Institute for Latino Studies Library and Archives, and visiting professor Joseph Segura.

The app, called “Day of the Dead — Experience the Tradition,” is the first internally produced app at Notre Dame made available to the general public, Grimm said.

Segura said while the app is designed as a tool for teachers, it also represents Notre Dame’s involvement in the Day of the Dead.

“It will help teachers present the Day of the Dead in a more logical way, especially in primary and secondary schools,” Segura said. “The app also gives another view of Notre Dame and shows the significant number of people here with an interest in Latino art.”

Junior Stephanie Aguilera, a student who worked on the app, said the app provides a new way to learn about the holiday’s impact in the United States.

“The Latino population is the largest, fastest growing minority group in the nation so it’s important to share its culture in order to create a society that is more understanding and appreciative of the many cultures that come together at Notre Dame and in the United States,” Aguilera said.

Segura said the application features images and information compiled by the Institute for Latino Studies during 10 years of Day of the Dead celebrations at Notre Dame since 2001. Student involvement was vital to the collaborative effort of developing the app, Segura said.

“They put the passion on the table to drive it,” Segura said.

Grimm said 2011 graduate Kevin Li, senior Stephanie Pedicini, IUSB senior Maclovio Cantu and Aguilera worked on video production, programming and graphics for the app.

“Working on the app was more interesting and rewarding than any class project because all the students involved contributed our own areas of interest,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera said she had the most difficult part of the process was organizing information and narrowing the material included in the app.

“We interviewed various scholars who have a passion for Latino culture, like Rev. Virgil Elizondo, so there was more information that I would have liked to include,” Aguilera said.

Li served as Information Technology manager for the Institute for Latino Studies from spring semester of his senior year until the end of summer in 2011. Li said he enjoyed the creative freedom students were given in creating the app.

“My favorite part of working on the app was seeing how far we could push the envelope. One of the most promoted features of the app is a sugar skull. You can actually turn the skull around to view it from any angle by moving it with your hand,” Li said.

Li also said the app’s creative and entertaining elements each serve an educational purpose.

“We didn’t just do the skull thing because it was cool. [The skulls] tend to be 3D physical art pieces and it made sense to depict the skull in a way that let users experience that these artifacts exist in a physical space versus being on a canvas or a screen,” he said.

Grimm said her favorite part of the project is its collaborative and interdisciplinary nature.

“We were able to work across campus with the Snite Museum, FTT students, Fine Arts students and students in Latino Studies. It was like a real world project,” Grimm said.

Grimm said the most challenging part of the process for her was understanding the technological possibilities.

“The most difficult part was orienting myself to understand the potential of the technology — I’m not a computer person. Kevin Li … translated his technical knowledge into something we non-technical people could understand,” Grimm said.

Grimm said there are plans to create new apps similar to this one.

“The Julian Samora Library would like to produce another app to display our collection of original documents,” Grimm said.

Aguilera said the app is important to her personally due to her heritage.

“Dia de los Muertos is a day to honor those who have come before us in a celebratory manner,” she said. “It’s also important to me because it’s a tradition shared by both sides of the border, it began in Mexico but has traveled to the United States. In a way, it’s a union between my Mexican and American roots.”