Alumni Spotlight - Santiago Garcés (Class of 2011)
Author: Santiago Garcés
Nearly 5 million of the 44 million people that live in Colombia have experienced forced displacement in the past decade (Internal Displacement Centre, Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009 (Geneva: IDMC, May 2010), 13). As a child growing up in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, I saw families, gripped by fear, who left everything to enter a city that was not prepared or willing to receive them. Institutional weakness rendered the state incapable of adapting to the needs of its changing constituents, and most surely it is the genesis of 200 years of civil strife; the state could not properly encode the voice of its people, its output a cacophony in disarray.
In my search for answers, I came to the University of Notre Dame, eventually graduating with degrees in electrical engineering cum laude, and political science, with honors. I also received a master’s degree from the ESTEEM program, working with Dean Greg Crawford from the College of Science on a product that allows healthcare professionals and law enforcement officers to diagnose the age of bruises in cases of abuse. Aside from my academic experience, which has exposed me to product design including electronic system design, and software design, I worked at Notre Dame in several IT roles, including assistant to the Director of Engineering Computing, and IT consultant for the Keough-Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin, Ireland. I have a strong passion for devising technology-enabled solutions for social problems. Currently, I am the Client Lead for the City of South Bend as part of the Michiana Venture Fellowship through enFocus.
The Reilly Center’s Arts & Letters/Engineering Dual-Degree Program was definitive in my development. It allowed me to see past the limited scope of one discipline, for instance, only seeing information theory as an electrical engineer, or electoral systems as a political scientist, and instead elaborate a framework that uses information theory to determine the quality of representation of electoral systems, which was the subject of my senior thesis. The core idea behind this project was to make electoral systems more responsive to people’s changing opinions: conceptualizing an electorate like a complex living organism that responds to external and internal changes. Looking at the phenomenon of urbanization, in less than 50 years, more than 65% of the population will be living in cities. 82% of those living in cities will also be living in an under-developed nation. The interaction between people and their cities will probably suffer the largest transformation since the Industrial Revolution. So, while envisioning this change, we need to be innovative and mindful of both the technical challenges and the human challenges. Our cities must become more intelligent, again, adapting like an organism to the changing needs of its constituents. In my work as the City Lead as an enFocus fellow, I have used this trans-disciplinary approach to reduce costs and to help transform South Bend into a 21stcentury city.
Technology itself is barren, a mere curiosity; only when it meets human need does it transform into a vehicle of human development. Engineering humanizes the world. But a Notre Dame education, and a dual-degree through the Reilly Center, ensure solutions that are integral.