Interactive Media students head to Puerto Rico for graduate program’s ‘signature experience’

To conclude their Winter Term study away course, graduate students hosted formal presentations on Jan. 25 to highlight their contributions supporting two nonprofit organizations on the Caribbean island.

As part of their Winter Term study away experience, graduate students in the Interactive Media master’s degree program traveled to Puerto Rico in January to collect content and produce multimedia components for their interactive projects for the public good. Upon their return to campus, the student teams built robust online presences for their respective nonprofit organizations on the Caribbean island.

Associate Professor Derek Lackaff, who serves as director of the Interactive Media graduate program, looks on as Julia Kocsis and Alyssa Sandy begin their group’s presentation in Turner Theatre.

To celebrate the graduate students’ efforts, the School of Communications hosted formal presentations of the students’ final projects on Jan. 25 in Schar Hall’s Turner Theatre. The student groups shared details about their travels, their objectives, as well as their finished projects. A photo gallery of the presentations is available on the School of Communications’ Flickr page. The presentations were also livestreamed for clients, family, friends, alumni and prospective students.

Following their weeklong stay in Puerto Rico collecting and gathering content, the students created websites, promotional videos, style guides and other online marketing tools. The groups essentially overhauled their respective clients’ presence online – or built them from scratch.

During his presentation welcome, Associate Professor Derek Lackaff called these projects the graduate program’s “signature experience.” He commended the students for their “extraordinary work accomplished under extraordinary circumstances,” alluding to the COVID-19 protocols and safety measures they adhered to while working in the Caribbean. The experience showcased the students’ “talent, flexibility and grit,” Lackaff said.

The following sections highlight the participating students, faculty and staff, their respective roles in the project, and a summary of their efforts.

Alacena Feminista Mayagüez

Alyssa Sandy – Project Manager
Daniela Romero – Researcher
Emma Sisk – Photographer
Julia Kocsis – Writer
Kerrie-Jean King – Videographer
Savannah Knight – Developer
Tyrell Smalls – Graphic Design
Nicole Triche – Faculty Adviser
Maggie Mullikin – Staff Adviser

The student group that supported Alacena Feminista Mayagüez gathers for a team photo. Pictured (front, from left) are Daniela Romero, Julia Kocsis, Savannah Knight, (middle) Kerrie-Jean King, Tyrell Smalls, (back) Emma Sisk, Maggie Mullikin, Nicole Triche and Alyssa Sandy.

A team of seven Interactive Media students, which adopted the moniker Mayagüez Media, traveled to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, to work with Alacena Feminista Mayagüez, a nonprofit organization that collects food and hygienic items to distribute to the community. The nonprofit’s slogan, “Toma lo que necesites, deja lo que puedas,” translates to “take what you need, leave what you can,” which promotes the organization’s goal of solidarity throughout Puerto Rico and in its community.

During their time in the unincorporated U.S. territory, the students compiled photos, videos and interviews that showcased Alacena Feminista Mayagüez’s mission and efforts. The students also contributed to the reconstruction and stocking of the organization’s shelves, immersing themselves in their client’s day-to-day mission.

The visual content gathered was used to create the nonprofit’s new website, Previously, Alacena Feminista Mayagüez had a modest online presence, and relied mostly on social media and word-of-mouth to promote its initiatives.

“They needed a website to improve their visibility and their credibility,” said Julia Kocsis ’21, during the group’s formal presentation.

The website is designed to attract members of the Puerto Rican community, donors and partners, and emphasize ways they – and others – can contribute.

Niños de Nueva Esperanza

Christy Marchand – Project Manager
Ana Martinez-Valles – Graphic Designer
Sophia Theriault ­­– Writer
Ivana Spurlock – Content Strategist
Diamond Carroll – Videographer
Doo Lee ­– Photographer
Zachary Fertig – Web Developer
Philip Motley ­– Faculty Adviser
Brandon Booker ­– Faculty Adviser

A group of Interactive Media students traveled to the Toa Baja municipality of Puerto Rico to work with Niños de Nueva Esperanza (NNE), a nonprofit organization that serves the children of the Sabana Seca community. For nearly 25 years, NNE has provided youngsters with personal academic tutoring services, as well as other resources for community members and families.

The students and faculty advisers who supported Niños de Nueva Esperanza gather after their group presentation. Pictured (front, from left) are Sophia Theriault, Ana Martinez-Valles, Zachary Fertig, Diamond Carroll, (back) Brandon Booker, Ivana Spurlock, Philip Motley, Christy Marchand and Doo Lee.

The students collaborated with NNE staff members to improve the nonprofit’s online presence,, highlighting the organization’s story through visuals, videos and written content. The students developed a website that easily transitions between Spanish and English, a request that came from the client.

The students’ updated website incorporates testimonials, quotes and multimedia content to “show the love they feel in the facility,” said Christy Marchand, during the student group’s presentation.

According to the students, the final site showcases the “personal stories, determination, hope and love that encapsulates everything done at NNE.”

In addition to new videos and photography, the website features a redesigned logo that incorporates a kite. “It symbolizes the highs and lows of life,” said Ana Martinez-Valles, the group’s graphic designer.

“We had an incredible experience, not only with our client, but around the island, with each other, and in our own (Airbnb),” Marchand said.

Ivana Spurlock added, “We can all agree that this experience exceeded our expectations.”

Since the 2009 launch of the Interactive Media graduate program, students have visited more than 15 different countries across the world, from Iceland and Ireland to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program adjusted its itinerary in 2021 and partnered with three North Carolina-based organizations.