How Two Deep Dive Bootcamp Graduates Designed an App to Boost Digital Literacy on the Navajo Nation

Marivel Medel and Britney A. King designed the app as part of a new UX/UI Design Bootcamp for students from rural areas
March 24, 2022

Britney A. King grew up in Churchrock, New Mexico, and knows first-hand what infrastructure needs that area is facing. From better access to running water to more information and food distribution, there’s a large resource gap.

That’s why she teamed up with partner Marivel Medel to design a new app that addresses one of the fastest growing needs: increased digital literacy. The two built a prototype during a recent CNM Deep Dive UX/UI Design Bootcamp funded by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation that was specifically designed for students who live in or come from rural areas. 

“Providing people on the Navajo Nation with increased digital literacy gives them access to participate in our society in a meaningful way,” Britney says. “By helping this community reach the same level of literacy as everyone else we’re ensuring inclusivity.” 

Neither Britney nor Marivel had any previous coding experience but decided to enroll as a way to expand their skill sets. Both received full scholarships, as did every other student in the bootcamp, thanks to the Thoma Foundation Rural Deep Dive Scholarship. The 15-week fully online, instructor-led bootcamp was also specifically designed as a part-time offering so that participants could be working learners or still attend other college classes. 

“The bootcamp was a really concise and effective way to learn an entirely new skill,” Marivel says. “I live down in Silver City, so the online format was particularly convenient and the scholarship helped an enormous amount.”

The app the duo designed is called Native Link and would provide a number of features. For example, Marivel and Britney want to curate an entire video library where Navajo Nation residents can watch tutorials on everything from how to use a laptop to how to set up a WiFi network. They also plan to build out an entire illustrated infographic library. For the prototype they built a first infographic that explains what WiFi is and how it works.

Another feature is a resource map where users can find digital infrastructure in their area. The prototype includes information on the Churchrock Chapter house and explains that people can access this community meeting spot to use computers and the internet. The app uses English as the main language, but comes with a tap-to-translate feature that can translate any of the information into Navajo. 

“We know that resource scarcity is a much larger issue for the Navajo Nation, but we’re excited about this app because it allows us to address a growing need in a really timely way,” Marivel says. 

Next steps for the duo include a complete buildout of the app with increased front-end and back-end functionality. They’ve also been in touch with the New Mexico Start-Up Factory, an incubator that could help with development. While Marivel currently works for Western New Mexico University and Britney is a graduate student at UNM, they’re excited about this new side hustle to explore bringing the app to life.

“It was great to come out of the bootcamp with this concrete project plus a pitch deck that will help us as we move forward,” Britney says. “We have a ways to go, but we’re excited about seeing this app go up places like the Apple App Store and about watching as many people as possible use it as a tool to help increase digital literacy.” 

The next UX/UI Design Bootcamp starts June 6, with an application deadline of May 6. Learn more here

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The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation recognizes the power of the arts to challenge and shift perceptions, spark creativity, and connect people across cultures.

With a collection of 1,800 works spanning five broad fields - Art of the Spanish Americas, Digital & Media Art, Japanese Bamboo, Post-War Painting & Sculpture, and Southwest Modern & Contemporary Art - the Thoma Foundation supports organizations with a wide-ranging yet personal impact, believing that the arts play a seminal role in society.

The Thoma Foundation also funds initiatives beyond the artworld that strengthen community, leadership, and education in our targeted geographic region of TX, OK, NM, and AZ with a focus on rural areas.