Bridging Technology and Community in Cape Town: Where Study Abroad meets Service Abroad

Sanethia Thomas, Ph.D.

In beautiful Cape Town, South Africa, a group from the University of Florida immersed themselves in the local culture in an effort to revolutionize the traditional study abroad experience. This unique opportunity combines elements of a traditional study abroad with an emphasis on  service abroad. Instead of partnering with a university within Cape Town, the students partnered with three community organizations to provide information technology support and leverage their computer science knowledge for real-world applications. 

Sanethia Thomas, Ph.D., assistant instructional professor in the UF Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering, created a new type of study abroad program that partnered with the Vygrond township, Youth in Transformation, and the Princess Vlei Forum in Cape Town. The idea was to create an internship service project where students would build technology for community organizations that couldn’t otherwise afford it. The ability to work for these organizations and be active in the Cape Town community provided real-world work experience for the students and an immersive community-oriented cultural experience. 

The students lived and worked within the community for seven weeks and built a website, an administrative dashboard, an inventory database, and an interactive map for the partnered community organizations. Not only did the students work for these organizations, but they also held coding workshops for people within this community and participated in various community events throughout their stay. 

The Vrygrond township, one of the partners, is a large community with no streets, grid, or town map. Navigation was an issue for people that are not familiar with the area. The students created an interactive map for the community members that showed various shops and points of interest around the community. The map allowed for easier navigation for both residents and tourists.

Mouray Hutchinson, an undergraduate computer science major, worked with Youth in Transformation, a tutoring and education organization. They helped build an administrative dashboard that allowed for better timekeeping, performance evaluation, and information storage.

“I had an amazing experience in Cape Town. Getting to work, explore and make friendships in a new city – and a city as interesting as Cape Town – was surely a highlight of my college experience,” Hutchinson said.

Shalia Moscat, an undergraduate who is majoring in computer science, worked with a team of students to redesign the website of the Princess Vlei Forum. The Princess Vlei Forum is a conservation organization that works to preserve the wetland region south of Cape Town known as Princess Vlei. Their goal was to modernize the website and make it more user friendly. 

“My team and I did a full redesign of the organization’s website, which included new page designs, cutting of outdated pages, and the creation and integration of charts representing species prevalence at the Vlei over time,” Moscat said. 

As a break from their volunteer work, the students were able to participate in various excursions throughout their stay. Nicholas Lopera, a computer science student, captured pictures from a safari and visit to Table Mountain.

“Outside of the classroom, Dr. Thomas helped organize the excursions we were able to go on,” Lopera said. “She was filled with excitement about everything there was to see and was always looking for new experiences. I am beyond grateful to have gotten the opportunity to work in South Africa with Dr. Thomas. I am thankful for everything she has done to make the program unforgettable.” 

Dr. Thomas will be taking a similar trip to Ghana this summer. If you are interested, you can apply here