Student Creates App to Encourage Hispanic Voters

By Megan Reyna

Noelle Vela always knew she wanted to give back to her community.

Through the College of Media & Communication Media Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, she was given that opportunity in a unique way. Vela led the way in developing a political engagement app aimed towards Hispanic teenagers.

Vela, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the public relations department, grew up in Penitas, Texas, where she attended La Joya High School. According to Vela, students at the predominantly Hispanic high school lacked political interests.

Noelle Vela presenting Raza at the first Student Startup Competition in the Spring of 2015.

Noelle Vela presenting at the first Student Startup Competition in the Spring of 2015.

In the 2012 presidential election, only 48 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, according to the Pew Research Center. In the same election, 67 percent of Blacks and 64 percent of Whites voted. Although the Latino and Hispanic population is voting in larger numbers than in the past, the Center suggests there is still room for growth.

The Media Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, advised by Assistant Professor of Public Relations Geoffrey Graybeal, chose to take on the task of encouraging Hispanics to vote after learning about an international competition.

“Graybeal received word about the Ohio International Scripps competitions,” Vela said. “He presented it to the media entrepreneurship group, to the officers, saying ‘Hey, this is an interesting competition, you guys should actually create something.'”

The Scripps competition had different categories and prompts to compete in. Vela said the group chose the category related to engaging high school students in the 2016 election.

The group began working on a mobile app, called Vozra, providing political information through games and quizzes. It is intended to appeal to Hispanic teenagers and young adults.

Vela said she partnered with her brother, Juan Vela, a political science major, who helped gather the information provided by the app. Paul Valadez, a management information systems major, developed the composition of the app, helping to bring her vision to life.

“I think we should get educated about who’s running and the politics of it, especially Hispanics,” Valadez said. “I think that’s who she’s aiming at, who their target market is initially. And as a Hispanic, yeah, we do need to get out there and vote.”

Aside from the Scripps competition, Vela has also participated in several other events, including a student start-up contest hosted by the College of Media & Communication. She was a finalist at the Texas Tech 3 Day Startup competition, where she placed second and received funding to attend two larger out-of-state competitions, Graybeal said.

Vela’s biggest accomplishment was when she was chosen to be one of 20 fellows for the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s and Entertainment Software Association, Leaders on the Fast Tract group. She went to Washington, D.C., this semester to present Vozra to the White House STEM team, members of Congress and other national leaders, Graybeal said.

Vela has also received a $5,000 grant from VentureWell, which helps incubate the app, according to Graybeal,.

“Noelle has put in a lot of time and energy and effort in finding partners and finding opportunities that will allow us to get money and more attention for it,” Graybeal said. “It is the first idea that our college is incubating.” 

Vela said she hopes to launch the app in January. She plans on selling it to school districts in Texas with high Hispanic populations, and then spreading to other states like California, New Mexico and Arizona.

“The Hispanic community right now is known as the sleeping giant, because there is so many of us,” Vela said. “It is kind of a bad reputation to have, but we could have the most influential vote during these elections.”

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