Category: Features

$4.75 million TAMIU CARES Program grants emergency funds to students

$4.75 million TAMIU CARES Program grants emergency funds to students

By Jessica Rodriguez
Director of Photography
Published Monday, May 4, 2020

On April 24, TAMIU announced it will give emergency grants to students thanks to the TAMIU CARES Program. These funds could begin disbursing to applicants as early as May 8.

As one of the many universities which received this emergency grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act approved by the Department of Education, Texas A&M International University was awarded $9 million. This amount was based on the number of students enrolled who qualify for the Pell Grant and those who do not. According to the CARES Act, the money would be split in half so $4.75 million will go to the university and the other half provided to students in the form of grants, refunds, loan forgiveness or campus-based waivers.

TAMIU President Pablo Arenaz said this emergency aid would help students directly affected by COVID-19.

“Thousands of TAMIU students and their families have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Arenaz began in an email sent to students, faculty and staff. “ Some students may even be questioning their ability to continue their degree dream. The availability of this assistance will be a welcome relief and we are thankful to our congressional delegation for their leadership on this.”

Those interested may look up additional information at https://www.tamiu.edu/cares/.

Jessica Rodriguez | Bridge Photo Illustration
A TAMIU student reviews the TAMIU CARES Emergency Funds website for the spring semester.

Because of this aid, the University set up the TAMIU CARES Emergency Fund. The money would go directly into the form of emergency grants distributed during the spring, summer and fall semesters for 2020. In order to access these grants, students must apply through an online application. TAMIU requested students apply through this application with supporting documentation of unforeseen hardships due to COVID-19, which include: food insecurity, urgent medical expenses, utility bills, school expenses, and on-campus and off-campus housing. Other requirements may apply.

In addition, students must have a FAFSA file with TAMIU or be eligible for Title IV student assistance.  TAMIU Finance Director Laura Elizondo said TAMIU has 5,760 students who currently meet Title IV eligibility and can qualify for this grant. However, some students have not started or completed their FAFSA, so that number might increase or change. As of last week, about 1,478 students applied but numbers continue to increase.

Elizondo said she and the committee in charge of the TAMIU CARES Program are looking closely at the applications and said all details are important in determining whether a student is eligible for the grant. She said some applications show students focused on their needs for the spring semester, while others did not.

“There’s a lot of students who are submitting, ‘I need help in the summer for tuition,, well this is not the summer right now,” she said. “Anybody who’s submitting right now for applications for summer or next fall they will close up the application and let the students know at this time we’re not processing summer applications. You need to wait and come back and apply later in May. Right now, we have to concentrate and pay out our spring needs.”

She said they are focusing on students who expressed urgent need of funds.

“If you do not own a computer and now you have to work from home and you use a credit card to purchase a computer, that’s a perfect item that we can help reimburse you for,” Elizondo said. “If you do not have internet at home and now you have to add it, that is a perfect item that we can help you pay for. So some students are giving us a lot of [information] while others are not saying much.”

Jessica Rodriguez | Bridge Photo Illustration
A TAMIU student reviews the TAMIU CARES Emergency Funds website for the spring semester.

Moreover, she said if a student does not submit enough documentation for a claim, the committee will contact that student with an email or mobile phone number on file and allow them 48 hours to resubmit any photos of bills or proof to tamiucares@tamiu.edu and someone there will upload the documents for them onto their application.

Elizondo said the first round of funds will go out at the end of the week, possibly May 8 and onward.

For those who do not receive any money for the spring semester, they can still apply for the summer and fall if they are enrolled for classes. The summer application opens up on May 18 and August 17 for fall. Elizondo said summer applications will process through the end of May, June, July and even August because of the different summer sessions students might be enrolled.

She also said it is extremely important for students to apply because this money goes directly to them.

“Students don’t have to confirm what they use [the money] for,” Elizondo said. “If the student said they need it because x,y, z and then they get the money and something else happens and they need it for something else, that is their prerogative. They decide. They don’t have to come back and give us any type of proof of what they used it for.”

A BankMobile account is recommended in order to receive the funds. She encourages people to be patient and know that the University is doing everything it can to help the students during this time.

In addition, students can still apply for other grants like the Student Emergency Grant, the Texas A&M University System Emergency Regent’s Grant and the Lamar Bruni Vergara Emergency Fund—all with their own eligibility requirements.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Pandemic life

PHOTO STORY: Pandemic life

By Jessica Rodriguez
Director of Photography
and
Alejandro Hernandez
Bridge Staff Writer
Published Monday, May 4, 2020

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QUARANTINE CORNER: Dealing with the pandemic – Part 2

QUARANTINE CORNER: Dealing with the pandemic – Part 2

By Jessica Rodriguez
Director of Photography
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

[Editor’s note: The following is the second installment in a series of articles about different Texas A&M International University students, faculty and staff who are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope their stories can be as inspiring to you as we found them to be.]

Staying at home 24/7 during an almost catastrophic pandemic can be daunting. However, for Texas A&M International University art student Elkin Cortez, he sees this as an opportunity to get back to his creative ventures.

Cortez possesses multiple talents, including art, photography and even a knack for making YouTube videos in his spare time. He says that now, more than ever, he can focus on his passions.

“I am spending a lot of time on my favorite activities during this quarantine,” Cortez said. “Activities such as painting, drawing, videos and photos.”

For many students, the transition from regular college life to a secluded online routine can be challenging. Cortez came to TAMIU from Miguel Aleman Tamaulipas and returned home when the campus transitioned to online classes.

“My routine changed completely because I was living on campus and now I am at home with my family,” he said. “Therefore, the living routine is different.”

COVID-19 undoubtedly altered people’s lives but there are always ways to reshape this new way of life. Students now have time to explore new hobbies and get creative at home. Because of what is going on in the world, new leisure activities can be helpful, both physically and mentally.

He said that although many students are in different situations, he still encourages them to get as creative and productive as possible.

“Try to be as efficient as you can with the time you have,” Cortez said. “Try to strengthen your skills or develop new ones if it’s possible.”

Submitted images | courtesy Elkin Cortez
Elkin Cortez paints in his room during the stay-at-home quarantine.

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Chasing ‘black gold’

Chasing ‘black gold’

By Tiffani De La O
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

Three hours North of Laredo lies one of many oilfield drilling rigs. These rigs run around the clock without any means of stopping, which makes this profession one of the most demanding in the world. 

Working in the oilfields backtracks to 1859 when the first American oil well was discovered. OPEC started up in 1960 in order to coordinate and create a union between 14 of its members, all foreign countries—the U.S. not among them.

Under the guidelines of that organization, crude oil is being drilled every day, worldwide, to produce energy, gasoline and other resources used on a daily basis. Each barrel, which contains about 40 gallons of crude oil, makes 19 gallons of gasoline. The workforce, which contributes to this organization, comes from drilling companies with crew members who are from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

For Gustavo Chavez, 23, of Laredo, it was one of his dreams to be able to have the chance and experience life in the oilfields. After having a rough childhood, which ranged from poverty to displacement, he decided to get up and make his life better even if it meant being far from home. That is when he became a floor hand for Helmrich & Payne.

“Just like any person, you work at a different job and there is word of mouth that better jobs are out there which pay $2,000 a week,” Chavez said about his motivations. “That is when I decided I have to give it a try because I wanted to better my life and start making good money.”

Ryan Flores pursued a welding career in Oklahoma City before coming to Laredo.

“[It’s] always hard work for everyone, day in and day out, with busted hands and feet,” Flores said of working in the Laredo fields. 

A typical day in the oilfields is nothing less than hot, it gets even worse during the summer. Texas heat will have one of these workers dehydrating and sweating their pores out. Shifts range from 12 to 16 hours, sometimes with no days off for weeks. On workdays, shifts begin with a safety meeting to update the crew on what happens with the rig and about ongoing operations. 

“The meeting is a safety measure to prevent any accidents or to learn about the dangers going through the operations such as drilling, tripping in or out the hole, and other crucial things,” Chavez said. “My primary job as a floor hand is cleaning, maintaining, organizing and being that extra hand the crew might need. It’s like being a custodian for the rigs.”

Flores, on the other hand, would be pre-inspecting equipment to be used and welding metals for the rig with equipment such as grinders, torches, bevel machines and more. “It is usually done way before a rig moves in,” Flores said of the welding process. “It is the main stage for frac welding, or even after in case a pipe has a leak or has been broken.”

Those who work in the fields admit how difficult the work can be.

“Being out on a location is tough but we create a bond through our work ethic,” Chavez said. “You see different kinds of people but there’s people that won’t put out or don’t last their full hitch.”

In fact, the work is so intensive they rarely find time to joke or relax.

“[There’s] not much horsing around,” Flores said. “You have to be alert for anything serious such as [hydrogen sulfide] gas or any explosion on live gas.”

Just like most jobs, some overachieve and others remain satisfied with the work they do—they don’t go the extra mile.

“Not everyone’s work ethic is the same,” he said.

The oilfield lifestyle is not for most, it is a demanding job that puts stress on the crew members who are working far from home. This can also affect life back at home because this career does not allow workers to get up and go home whenever they would like. The people working at Rig 626 have living quarters fully equipped with working stoves, fridges, restrooms and other appliances, but it is not as comfortable as one’s own bed.

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Comics take over TAMIU

Comics take over TAMIU

By Andrew Alfaro
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday April 27, 2020

The kids who came of age during the comic book movie boom are now adults and want to see how far the genre can go.

In today’s world, comics are all over pop culture and every weekend it seems as if a new comic book movie was being released before COVID-19. The popularity of these comics has even made its way into classrooms with topics based on the art form.

Assistant Professional of visual communication Thomas Brown, teaches photography and writing courses at Texas A&M International University. One of the courses he offers is Writing for Comics Books, a writing intensive course. The class will be made available again in Summer Session 1 via online due to COVID-19.

The class is meant to help students learn how to develop a comic book script and become more diverse writers. Brown also teaches a brief history of comic books in the class to help newcomers get a better understanding of the genre.

In the class, students learn terminology, such as balloons and tails, and how to build a world for comics. 

“My students don’t have to write a superhero comic book,” Brown said.

 The students are allowed to write any type of comic they’re interested in. Often, people believe comics are only superhero-based, but this is just one genre of comics. Before the influx of heroes in tights, a variety of stories focused on Westerns, war, detectives, horror and even romance.

“When the students end the class, they have the script for a 22-page comic book,” Brown said.  “They just need to find an artist if they want to get it illustrated.”

The students are in control of the comic from the characters to the plot, sometimes referred to as the hero’s journey. Some other things taught in the class are how to use screenwriting software, such as Celtx, which is free.

TAMIU spring 2019 alumnus Kenneth Jones took the course and reflected on his experience.

“The 22-page comic book was easier than it sounds with all the assignments the class did before starting the comic book,” Jones said.

Comics do not only ignite a love for fantasy, but also address social issues. 

In today’s world, there are people of different ethnicity, religion, creed, gender and sexual orientation. Some readers may feel superheroes are supposed to be a certain skin tone. However, there are a multitude of heroes which can satisfy a particular walk of life and the numbers of diverse characters continue to grow.

Major social issues and events helped create beloved characters, such as X-Men, Black Panther and Shang-Chi.

“With the events going on at that time, Marvel was making a statement that people should not segregate others because they are different, but instead of poking right at racism, they made it about humans vs. mutants,” Brown said.

When Marvel did that, not only did they introduce a new team of heroes, they also created interesting new characters to the fans—all while addressing social issues.

TAMIU could potentially see similar success in comic book-related organizations, such as Anime Club, or events like STCE’s Comic Con held annually at TAMIU.

Over the years, comics continue to grow in popularity. Manga, a Japanese art form related to anime, is one type of comic book. Anime has a large and growing fan base.

Anime Club President Liza Nguyen helps organize meetings, fundraisers and events that center around anime and manga.

“The club talks about many things concerning anime and one of the things is manga,” Nguyen said. “The club used to rent out manga, which is a genre of comics. Since the club was created, it has tripled in size.”

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QUARANTINE CORNER: Dealing with the pandemic – Part 1

TAMIU together: dealing with the pandemic

By Angela K. Carranza
Bridge Staff Writer
Published Monday, April 20, 2020

[Editor’s note: The following is the first installment in a series of articles about different Texas A&M International University students, faculty and staff who are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope their stories can be as inspiring to you as we found them to be.]

Daniel Rodriguez
TAMIU senior

During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals discover how to keep themselves busy in many different ways. For example, some take up different hobbies: cooking, reading, gaming, etc. But for Texas A&M International University senior Daniel Rodriguez, a variety of hobbies keep him occupied throughout the day.

“I have been living alone for quite some time now, which has forced me to cook and be more independent,” Rodriguez said. “I have also gained some hobbies back, such as: gardening, playing Sudoku and playing video games.”

On another note, Rodriguez said life changed when his self-quarantine began.

“In this time of quarantine, I have been thinking about how we often live life in a rush,” he reflected. “This realization made me take more time with things at a slower pace.” 

Submitted photos | courtesy Daniel Rodriguez

Daniel Rodriguez cooks at home during his self-quarantine.

Ruben Reyes
TAMIU sophomore

Quarantine impacts students in many different ways. Some students see it as an advantage to finally beginning the things they had no time for previously, but others find it difficult adjusting to this period of self-isolation. At home, find many distractions.

“My entire routine has completely changed,” sophomore Ruben Reyes said. “It is really hard getting adjusted to this, being at home, 24/7. I was used to going to school at a certain time, going to work at a certain time, and now that we’re stuck at home there’s really nothing I can do.”

In contrast, there are also many things Reyes has been able to dedicate his time to.

“I’ve pretty much been gaming and spending time with my friends online,” he said. “During these last few weeks, I’ve been virtually meeting online with my friends on Discord. We just hang out as if we were hanging out in person, except through Discord.”

Reyes also runs a gaming YouTube account where he uploads gaming videos.

“Lately, I have been able to do more content creation, mainly because I am sponsored by a gaming organization through YouTube, and I did not get the chance to do this as much during the semester because of classes,” he said.

Interested persons may view his YouTube channel: rubenkings.

submitted photo | courtesy Ruben Reyes

Maria Hernandez
TAMIU student

During this self-imposed quarantine, many individuals adapt quite differently.

“Quarantine has mainly impacted me with my schoolwork,” Texas A&M International University student Maria Hernandez said. “It is harder to concentrate because my family is with me all the time. And there are not many places that I could go to do my schoolwork.”

For some, the forced introverted life might seem repetitive.

“Well, basically, [I’m] just doing house chores, homework, watching TV—the minimum stuff,” Hernandez said. “I have also been getting into doing arts and crafts with polymer clay. I usually just decorate things, like I have recently been decorating plant pots.”

She said she is also quite fond of self-quarantine.

“I get to be with my family and live with them,” Hernandez said. “I don’t live with my family, but in this quarantine I have been spending my time with my family.”

submitted photos | courtesy Maria Hernandez

Alyssa Veronica
TAMIU junior

This self-quarantine life has many different impacts on Texas A&M International University students. For some it turns harsh, yet for others beneficial.

“I would actually say that quarantine has benefited me,” TAMIU junior Alyssa Veronica said. “I finally have time to do things around the house. Now I can actually cook. I have been cooking all my meals which is great because I love to cook. And before I hadn’t had the chance to do so because of school.”

“I’m very into nutrition, I like to watch what I eat and find different healthy options that are easy to make,” Veronica said.

In addition, she finds some things too restrictive.

“I think the least favorite thing about quarantine would have to be the restrictions, in terms of going out,” she said. “Like, you can’t go to a friend’s house. You can’t hang out with anybody.

“But my most favorite part about quarantine is that I don’t really have to wake up for class, get ready and find parking. So I would say my favorite part is not having to worry about parking.”

Many students posted about parking issues online in the TAMIU Student Network page on Facebook prior to the impact of COVID-19. 

Veronica turned a not-so-happy situation to her advantage as now finds time to do things she really loves. Despite these “difficult times,” as many people are calling them, some find it important to always look for the bright side in every situation. 

submitted photo | courtesy Alyssa Veronica
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DustyCup event canceled

DustyCup event canceled

By Joel Caballero
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 13, 2020

Considered by some to be the most competitive event, both mentally and physically, between student organizations, DustyCup was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Student Government Association at Texas A&M International University, which sponsors the annual event, planned to host it this semester on April 4. The event normally brings student organizations together for the opportunity to compete for bragging rights and for the winner to take home a trophy and a grant.

DustyCup is typically hosted after the Big Event, a Universitywide community service event for the local community. The event was expected to not only have a physical portion but also one for academics with general topics and TAMIU history.

SGA Vice President Mariana Rodriguez said there is more to the event than some realize.

“It promotes student engagement,” Rodriguez said, “giving organizations the time to network between one another. To add, it is fun to see how competitive it can get.”

The Traditions Committee coordinates the event and revamps it each year.

“I would love to see as many organizations as possible [get involved],” Rodriguez said, prior to the cancellation. “The event is for them to step back from studies and group business to create bonds and partnerships. Plus, let’s keep the University traditions strong.”

This year, the committee planned to swap activities and partner with TAMIU recreational sports to see what else could be brought to the table.

“Organizations should expect to see new activities this year,” DustyCup Coordinator Lesley Escalera said, prior to the cancellation. “We are always excited to partner with Rec Sports; the combination of their ideas and the committee’s always makes a successful partnership.”

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Mariachis strive for excellence

Mariachis strive for excellence

By Jason Reyes
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 13, 2020

Often performing at celebrations, the Mariachi Internacional took the opportunity to perform at Discover TAMIU to represent Hispanic culture.

“We kind of want people to see that [Texas A&M International University] has mariachis and has that Mexican culture,” lead vocalist and trumpet player Danny Perez said. “The mariachis represents Mexican tradition and values.”

 Along with performing at Discover TAMIU, the mariachis expected to take part in the upcoming mariachi festival originally scheduled for Apr. 23. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that event is most likely canceled.

“Mariachi does play a big part in TAMIU because it is a part of the Mexican culture, and the Mexican culture is the biggest culture here,” violist Angela Carranza said.

Mariachi Internacional is led by Director Oswaldo Zapata and consists of music students, and those from other disciplines, wanting to learn more of the musical side of South Texas culture.

“One of the biggest events we are having is called Sonidos de Mexico and it is going to be by concert,” Perez said. “We’re going to have all these workshops where different kids from different high schools come and work with this professional mariachi, one of the best mariachis in the world, named Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan.”

The TAMIU mariachis pride themselves in their Hispanic background.

“We always try to go to events that promote Mexican culture, such as El Grito,” Perez said. “El Grito is an event the [mariachis] have been performing for the longest time and it’s always trying to spread that Mexican culture and legacy [they] want to leave. It started back in 1980 and now it’s just growing every single year.”

These mariachis also take pride in their performances, working to ensure audiences remain engaged.

“The thing that I love about performing is when I look at people and they are smiling,” Perez said, “because it reminds them of their childhood or that nostalgia of growing up with mariachi music … It brightens their day.”

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Level up at LVL 2 Gaming

Level up at LVL 2 Gaming

By Ruben Reyes
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 13, 2020

LVL 2 Gaming offers experiences in trading cards, video games and more for its customers. The store features numerous tournaments and events.

From all kinds of video games, LVL 2 Gaming capitalizes on Laredo’s competitive gaming culture.

Regular patron Gregorio Resendez said LVL 2 Gaming gave him the opportunity to interact with more people and gain new hobby experiences.

“I didn’t live near any gaming stores, so my friends and I wouldn’t really have spots to hang outside of school,” Resendez said. 

Esports currently make considerable profit. LVL 2 Gaming hopes to keep improving the quality of entertainment and competition for its customers. The business hosts weekly tournaments for “Super Smash Bros.” and “Dragon Ball Z: Fighters” with small prize pools added as an incentive for players to join. It sparked an interest in tabletop gaming as well; Dungeons & Dragons sessions are held weekly at the store.

Co-owner Jesus Moreno said opening the business meant a lot to him.

“It was hard at first, but this was always a dream of mine as a kid,” Moreno said. “I used to walk into game shops at the mall and wished that one day I’d have a business of my own. I dedicated my adult life to business and my dream finally came true.”

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Rise of esports at TAMIU

Rise of esports at TAMIU

By Ruben Reyes
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 13, 2020

The TAMIU Smash Club is composed of students who play “Super Smash Bros.” for relaxation and competition.

Over the course of the semester, students formed bonds, thus enhancing the college experience for most. Management information systems major Luis Arriaga said his studies of networking exceeded his expectations in the TAMIU Smash Club.

“I want to have events that bring competitors from around the United States to [Texas A&M International University] and compete with our local Smash players,” Arriaga said.

Arriaga hopes to persuade TAMIU into looking at programs or scholarships for esports.

“TAMIU lags a little behind, but recently, the TAMIU [Recreational Sports Center] bought three gaming monitors and a Nintendo Switch … so there’s definitely support from the staff for gaming.”

    Arriaga’s passion for gaming comes from his love for competition. In recent years, esports continues to grow all over the world due to famous titles such as, “League of Legends,” “Fortnite” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” These video game titles all share one trait in common: competition.

According to the Esports Ecosystems Report 2020, the esports market will likely surpass $1.5 billion in revenue by 2023. U.S. cities build esports arenas for tournaments. Esports gained mainstream media attention around the world. It’s an activity anyone can easily compete in, or spectate.

“As long as there are figureheads in the community, there is a chance that esports could grow into a prominent culture in any university,” Arriaga said.

Leonardo “MKLeo” Lopez is well known within the “Super Smash Bros.” community. Lopez is one of the notable players who inspires many people to enter “Super Smash Bros.” tournaments around the world. He is a player who continues to dominate the “Super Smash Bros.” competitive scene by consistently taking major tournaments with prizes ranging up to thousands of dollars.

Arriaga embraces the passion for the “Super Smash Bros.” community on campus and hopes more interest will come in the future. Arriaga hosted several tournaments, including a few approved by TAMIU. The club hosted the Battle at the Border tournament in late July 2019. The tournament was stacked with more than 120 players in attendance, including talent from Arkansas and Honduras, competing for a grand prize of $600.

The success of the TAMIU Smash Club inspired various students to create more organizations of their own for esports. Students voiced interest in creating clubs for other games, such as “League of Legends” and “Overwatch.”

The TAMIU Smash Club participated in a collegiate league in early 2019. Gavin “Cosmic” Gonzalez traveled with TAMIU Smash.

“Playing in the collegiate team was, honestly, a very fun experience,” Gonzalez said. “It felt just as if I was competing in another sport. Being able to represent my school along with traveling with good friends to these events—definitely something I’m going to remember.”

As one of the team’s dominant players, he eliminated nearly every member of Schreiner University’s team during the collegiate crew battles against other Texas universities.

“Having to come up with strategies and changing our lines up on the fly, to beat whoever we were up against, is something that I thoroughly enjoyed,” Gonzalez said. “Having your team and spectators cheer your team on was also a nice feeling.”

Arriaga hopes campus esports will take off to never-before-seen heights. Esports is something he believes should not be ignored or skimmed over and should be treated equally to traditional sports.

“Esports is easier to get into than many other sports but it’s just as hard to master, so we can see greater interest from people to enter esports at TAMIU due to the accessibility, compared to other sports,” Arriaga said.

Arriaga remains optimistic that TAMIU will continue to support the esports community and the TAMIU Smash Club for more semesters to come.

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