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UHD project team from left to right: Fabiola Vacatoledo, Instructional Designer, Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Jennifer Fuentes, Online Learning Librarian, Dr. Raquel Chiquillo, Professor of Spanish, Dr. Gregory Dement, Director, Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence.

CCDI Awardee University of Houston-Downtown Creates StoryMaps to Delve into Afro-Latino History

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University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is one of CCDI’s 2024 Higher Education awardees. The team began their project in December 2023 and will be presenting at the CCDI’s upcoming Summer Fuse 2024 event in Washington, D.C. UHD is receiving $69,084.67 for their project, “Discovering Afro-Latino Heritage: A Reflective StoryMap Project to Enhance Student Belongingness and Learning.” Through their project, they will remix maps, photos, recordings and other Library digital materials to create interactive StoryMaps that illustrate the origin of Afro-Latinos in the United States. StoryMaps is a web-based platform that can be used to create interactive stories by combining maps, multimedia, and narrative text. Isabel Brador, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed the UHD team to learn more about their project. 

Congratulations on receiving a CCDI Libraries, Archives and Museums award! Can you tell us about your project? 

Our grant project sponsored by CCDI involves working with faculty teaching key target courses to design student assignments involving exploration of Afro-Latino heritage. Students will be searching the Library of Congress digital collections for relevant materials, and creating multimedia deliverables, including StoryMaps. Our primary deliverable for the project is to create a collection of these StoryMaps and multimedia content that centers Afro-Latino heritage and can be a source of inspiration and a sense of belonging for our students and community members. The StoryMap resource will also be a content resource for relevant Latin American and Latino Studies courses. 

La Kagera [Hill in Background]. Postcard. 1900. Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

What excites or inspires you the most about the work you’ll be able to achieve with the CCDI award? 

At UHD, we have been focused on improving a sense of belonging for our students and engaging students through innovative digital technologies across instructional modalities. Our CCDI sponsored project combines both of these elements, through the lens of storytelling, which has been a recurring theme across various initiatives here at UHD. It will be exciting to demonstrate how a focus on storytelling through an intuitive and innovative digital tool like StoryMaps can enhance the student experience at UHD. Based on our progress thus far, and interest from faculty across disciplines, this project will yield an exciting deliverable that will inspire faculty and students. In addition to providing a much-needed resource for key target courses, the things we are accomplishing with support from the CCDI award have the potential to help faculty at UHD adopt new and effective ways of teaching and learning that will help our students succeed.  

Nautical Atlas of the World, Circular World Map of the Portuguese Hemisphere and Title Page. 1519. Miller Atlas. Library of Congress Online Catalog.


A key goal of your project, “Discovering Afro-Latino Heritage: A Reflective Story Map Project to Enhance Student Belongingness and Learning,” is to create a StoryMap, which requires the team to learn how to use ArcGIS software.  What has the experience of learning a new skillset while also managing a large-scale project been like? 

Learning to use the StoryMap software was a great experience. The training was intensive but not difficult. Our primary challenge centered around time management, including scheduling a two-day instructor-led training course for the grant team as faculty projects had already begun. We prioritized thorough preparation and gathering the essential resources to support the instructors and their students. Members of the grant team created instructional tutorials and documentation to help faculty and students get started. Due to affordable education licensing options, all faculty and student users were given access to a variety of free training videos and other materials. In addition, the dashboard features allowed members of the grant team to manage user permissions and facilitated student group work and content management. This will be an essential tool for collecting and creating our final StoryMap deliverables. Overall, the software posed fewer challenges than anticipated, so it did not cause any delays or additional changes in the project’s development. In fact, the emphasis on storytelling in the training sessions was a welcome support for our goal of helping students tell compelling stories, including their own. Beyond a few password reset issues, we have received only positive feedback about the software. With the first cohort of faculty-led student projects ending soon, we will gain greater insight into their experience with the application and the support we provided. As for the grant team, the training process was extremely helpful, and we feel the software, with its content and user management features, is a good fit for accomplishing the goals of our grant project.  

Throughout the course of your project, you’re using a variety of Library materials from the PALABRA Archive, the Spanish Legal Documents (15th-19th centuries) collection, and the Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age collection, which means sifting through and researching a large amount of material! What surprising or exciting things have you found in the collections related to Afro-Latino history and culture?  

Participants in this project have been able to gain a greater insight into searching for materials in the Library of Congress collections while developing their understanding of the types of historical materials that would represent multiple viewpoints. One professor stated: 

“It was incredible to witness the extent of resources available at the Library of Congress, facilitating deeper research into Afro-Latino culture. Considering our focus on St. Pedro Claver’s contributions to the Afro-Latino community presented a challenge, given that much of the information is concentrated in Colombia, we found images and information at the Library of Congress that significantly aided my students in concluding their research. These resources not only enriched their narratives but also led them to other sources, enhancing the depth and appeal of their work. 

Furthermore, beyond the narratives and historiography related to the Afro-Latino community, my students, colleagues, and I were impressed by the extensive resources available. These materials not only improved our research but also emphasized the Library of Congress’s importance as a central point for comprehensive investigations into Afro-Latino history and other topics we will research in the future at UHD. “

 Dr. Fernell Jimenez-Pabon, University of Houston-Downtown, Adjunct Professor of Humanities

Plan de la ville de la Veracruz. Bois, G. de. 1798. Libraries of Congress Geography and Map Division.


One of the key outcomes of UHD’s project is to enhance the teaching and learning for units in Latin American and Latino Studies literature classes. How do you envision the project filling this gap? 

The success of our project at UHD depends on faculty integrating StoryMap creation and the use of digital collections from the Library of Congress into their courses. For Spring 2024, we reviewed applications from faculty and chose to work with five faculty members: Dr. Christal Burnett-Sánchez from Bilingual Education; Dr. Rafael Andúgar-Sousa from Latino Studies; Dr. Fernell Jiménez-Pabón from Latino Studies and History; Dr. Giuliana Lund from English; and Dr. Albert DeJesús-Rivera from Spanish. In addition, Dr. Raquel Chiquillo, from Spanish, also integrated a StoryMap project within one of her courses. All the courses in the proposals have a gap or rather an absence within them when it comes to information/texts by Afro-Latino writers, educators, and communities. We envision that the StoryMaps created by the individual classes will be organized into a collection which will be readily available to anyone who wishes to use it. Thus, anyone who wishes to know more, for example, about the contemporary Puerto Rican community in Houston can use the StoryMap from Dr. Chiquillo’s class on that subject for their class whether for students to read and discuss or for the faculty member to use in class as background information. If they need more information on Cuba during the Age of Exploration, they can access the StoryMap from Dr. DeJesús-Rivera’s class, and so on. We envision the overall StoryMap as a collection that everyone will have access to, and which will help faculty create needed units within these courses on the various aspects of Afro-Latino communities and experiences.  

Summer Fuse 2024 

Interested in learning more about UHD’s work or hearing from other CCDI awardees? Register now for CCDI’s upcoming Summer Fuse event on June 24! This virtual event will feature presentations from our 2024 CCDI Award Recipients, a Community-Engaged AI Panel, and our interns. 


CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here. 

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