Digitizing Connection

International studies major Raul Romero ’22 combines his talent for tech and interest in politics to launch an unexpected career.

By Carolyn Ten Eyck

Politics felt like the natural path forward for Raul Romero ’22, who was drawn to Kenyon because of its connection with Leopoldo López ’93 H’07, an opposition leader in Romero’s home country of Venezuela. To prepare for a career in government, the international studies major secured internships with the Embassy of the Venezuelan Interim Government and the McCain Institute.

But after his first year at Kenyon, Romero participated in MiddCore, a business and entrepreneurship summer program at Middlebury College, and something shifted. “It sparked my interest in business, which I didn’t have before,” Romero said. “I had a great time.” One of his connections from the MiddCore program reached out to him about product management at eBay, giving him a recommendation for the internship application. Soon, he was headed to Washington D.C. to begin work as a product manager intern, diving into user testing and data analytics.

A few months before starting his internship, Romero had embarked on an entirely different adventure at Kenyon: founding Yakera, a crowdfunding platform that reimagines humanitarian aid, initially aimed at providing support to residents of his native Venezuela. As a result, coordinating a team, making a website and networking with alumni were all things he was well-acquainted with by the time the internship began. “But I had never looked into software as much, or the different components like user experience. And I learned a lot of it after I got the job,” he said.

Through his founding role with Yakera and his experience at eBay, Romero found common ground between his initial interest in politics and his newfound path in business. “Yakera is a perfect example of how Kenyon students learn to bridge the divide between humanity and technology, theory and practice, in complex ways that elevate our shared humanity,” said Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities Kate Elkins. 

While forging a path in tech, Romero found his liberal arts background to be a big help in his new work. “In the last week I was actually at eBay, I had the opportunity to present different strategies. There was one part involving cross-border trade strategies, and the knowledge I had in international trade came to overlap with the work I was doing,” he said. He credits Professor Elkins and Visiting Instructor of Humanities Jon Chun with helping him develop an awareness around Digital Humanities by incorporating programming and tech into their curriculum.

As Romero gained experience at eBay, he began participating in team and company-wide events, including Hack-a-thons. One particular Hack-a-thon, which took place during Intern Innovation Week, involved 23 teams. Romero’s team, which worked on creating a slide deck and mock-ups for a solution that sought to improve eBay’s Gen-Z engagement, won first prize. 

“That’s one of the things that I love about tech. Everything that I contributed was highly valued, by team members, by senior vice presidents, by people at all levels of the company,” Romero said. After his internship ended, he was offered a post-graduation job as a Product Manager at the company.

After Kenyon, he plans to keep working with Yakera, handing off some of the responsibilities while he moves to the West Coast for his new role at eBay. For now, though, he’s hard at work finishing up his penultimate semester at Kenyon. Juggling a crowdfunding platform with senior comps and numerous extracurriculars is a lot for anybody. But Romero is undeterred. “There’s so much more we can do,” he said. “There’s so much more that we can advance.”