The plights of refugees have dominated the headlines. Images of families displaced from their homes or detained at airports have been all over newspapers and television. These images join pictures of people taking to the streets to protest the recently issued Executive Order banning refugees from entering the United States for several months.
While the focus has been on those attempting to enter the U.S., it’s important to note the achievements of refugees already here in the United States.
One program that helps refugees succeed is The Refugee Education Initiative, a program started by Utah real estate magnate Roger Boyer. The initiative offers holistic assistance to students with a refugee background. The program empowers students to earn a college degree that leads to a marketable career.
“Imagine a student having the entire community standing near ready to assist when needed. Beyond the amazing academic and supportive services at the University of Utah, students have additional needs. Many students need dental work, eye care, mentoring, internships and offers of employment,” said Amy Wylie, executive director of The Refugee Education Initiative.
The Refugee Education Initiative has 190 scholars currently enrolled at campuses statewide, and 92 of those students are at the University of Utah. Participants at the U’s Refugee Program come from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Four countries represented are included in the Executive Order, and about half of the U students in the Refugee Program are from those nations.
U participants are majoring in programs across campus, but most are studying science, engineering and nursing. They speak more than 36 languages, and their average GPA is 3.2.
“The students in this program truly are the futures of their communities,” said Michelle Conley, director of the Refugee Program housed at and supported by the David Eccles School of Business. “They’ve come from unbelievably adverse backgrounds and have overcome so many challenges to be here. Supporting them as they work to further their education is particularly impactful because the effects of their success reverberate throughout the community.”
Conley will take a dozen students in the Refugee Program to Washington, D.C., in March to meet with Sen. Orrin Hatch, take a tour of the White House and U.S. Capitol and visit museums. These students also are taking a Civic Engagement course this semester to learn about how to become more involved in the political system.
“Having the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., is particularly meaningful to these students. Many are some of the newest citizens of our country, and they’ve expressed that seeing our Capitol is something they’ve dreamed about since being in a refugee camp,” Conley said. “It’s important that they understand both their rights and responsibilities as citizens, so that they can advocate for themselves and their communities on both a local and national level.”
For more information about The Refugee Education Initiative, visit www.therefugeeeducationinitiative.org. For those who want to make a financial contribution to the program or those who have internships available for students, please call the David Eccles School of Business’ Alumni Relations & Development team at 801-587-8378.