Coming from a beautiful yet sometimes troubled country – El Salvador – Ricardo has learned that everything in life is interconnected. El Salvador is a developing country best known for its ongoing problem with gang violence — a problem that monopolizes the effort of both local and international entities, leaving other problems, such as the bad disposal of waste, unattended. During his trips to the countryside, Ricardo noticed a pattern within poor rural communities: they often lack an appropriate system of waste disposal. After researching the detrimental effects badly disposed waste has on the environment and on human health, Ricardo decided to found a social organization called ComposTerra, eventually partnering with the regional chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Through ComposTerra, Ricardo and a group of volunteers taught residents of underdeveloped communities how to install compost bins and properly recycle organic waste. Ricardo sought to show people they can convert something negative, such as trash, into something positive, compost, culminating in ComposTerra’s ultimate goal: self-sufficiency through education.
Apart from environmental advocacy, Ricardo’s interests range from practicing Hawaiian Kenpo Karate to playing the saxophone. After being in karate for 13 years, Ricardo’s passion led him to achieve third-degree black belt. This passion, coupled with a desire to mentor the youth of El Salvador, led him to start a social project called Karate4Love. In Karate4Love, Ricardo and a group of black belt masters went to schools – located in communities where violence is prevalent and normalized – to teach the youth good moral and social values and show them an alternative path that does not involve violence or crime, but rather teamwork and love. Being proactive with his love for music, Ricardo organized multiple concerts in some of El Salvador’s most renowned venues, sending the proceedings to charitable causes.
The summer of 2020, Ricardo conducted his Ingram Summer Project with the mentorship of Dr. Rediet Abebe. For this project, Ricardo used longitudinal data, coupled with machine learning models, to understand which shocks and circumstances are common across people who lie under the poverty line. With this knowledge, Ricardo and Dr. Abebe created a platform that is helping non-profit organizations and social workers make data driven decisions on how they can allocate their money in such a way that has the greatest positive impact.
Ricardo is a research assistant in Dr. Daniel Work’s research lab at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems, where he is using large-scale historical data to quantitatively assess the quality of the built environment. The larger goal of this research is to help cities understand mobility patterns within their jurisdictions and make data driven decisions. Ricardo hopes that doing so will promote investments that maximize safety while promoting alternative, sustainable modes of transportation. Furthermore, Ricardo’s research seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by increasing efficiency within the transportation network, helping society move toward a greener future.
Ricardo is enthusiastic about continuing his studies at Vanderbilt University as an Ingram Scholar, where he hopes to continue exploring the roles of computing for social good.