Loyola University Chicago

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Students report on Puerto Rico recovery

Students report on Puerto Rico recovery
Cover photo by Eva Mick

A group of School of Communication students recently visited Puerto Rico as part of a semester-long course titled, Digital Storytelling Abroad.

The 13 graduate and undergraduate students produced a variety of digital content - articles, 360 virtual reality videos, documentaries, short video commercials, photo essays, phone apps, interactive maps and data visualizations – related to Puerto Rico’s capital, Old San Juan, and other areas of the U.S. territory.

The students visited Puerto Rico over spring break under the supervision of Patricia Lamberti, Director of Loyola’s Multimedia Journalism Program.

“I enjoyed each day on the trip because it was a different adventure,” said Kristen Pascual, a film and digital media major. “I decided to go because I really wanted to fit in another study abroad trip before graduating. I was really happy that Puerto Rico was chosen as a destination because the currency was the same we didn't need a visa.”

During the five night trip, students worked individually and in groups to gather materials for stories that range from the light-hearted, such as an infographic about items that originated in Puerto Rico (pina coladas and hammocks, for instance), to more serious pieces, such as a documentary about an organization that works to rescue Puerto Rico’s estimated 500,000 stray dogs.

Many students produced stories for those planning vacations to Puerto Rico, such as a guide to Old San Juan's most authentic arts and crafts stores and an interactive map suggest how best to spend three days on the island.

For those who want to experience Puerto Rico without leaving their couches, several students produced a series of 360 degree videos of some of the area’s most beautiful spots.

The group also met with professional journalists, who explained what it was like to report on Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 hurricane that hit the island in September 2017, leading to the deaths of 3,057 people.

“It was amazing to hear how journalists didn’t compete against each other during and after Maria,” Lamberti said. “They banded together, and also literally saved people’s lives by housing them in their newsrooms.”

Some of the content produced in this class will be used by Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s nonprofit destination marketing organization. Executives at Discover Puerto Rico hosted the students on their first morning in town, explained their mission and provided students with critical feedback on their ideas. "This is a historic, thriving moment for Puerto Rico and the opportunities are limitless," says Jeniffer Rosa, the Communications Vice President at Discover Puerto Rico.  

"Puerto Rico is a beautiful, welcoming and easy to reach destination ready to enchant its visitors. We believe there has never been a more important time for tourism in Puerto Rico than today and the future is bright for its tourism industry. We look forward to capitalizing on the transformative power of travel and tourism to help catapult Puerto Rico, its residents and its businesses forward."

Other pieces are being used for promotional purposes by local businesses and non-profits. 

Of course, some leisure time was built into the trip. The group hiked and swam in the El Yunque National Forest and kayaked at night through one of Puerto Rico’s three biolumiscent bays, bodies of water that produce bright bursts of blue light when touched by oars.

The class met regularly before and after the trip, so that students could brainstorm ideas, reach out to contacts, make personal itineraries and edit rough drafts of stories.

Like all communication professionals, students had to think fast and adapt when their stories didn’t pan out as they’d hoped. “Before I left, I had a solid plan. But once I was there, I had to learn to be flexible to either change parts of my original ideas or come up with a completely new project,” Pascual said. “As a film major, there are always going to be unexpected factors and I need to be prepared and flexible to account for them.”

Lamberti said this was the best class she’s ever led during her decade at Loyola.

“And not just because I got a reprieve from winter,” she said. “When I watched students stop people on the street for interviews, or get into cars with all of their equipment, I had goosebumps.  They were incredibly professional and fearless. I was so proud.”