Refugee Student Mentor Program
In spring 2015, Middle Eastern Studies (MES) began a collaboration with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) to not only provide an essential service to our community but to also provide volunteer opportunities for UT students with foreign language skills to serve as mentors to refugee students in AISD schools.
The idea for this collaboration came from MES faculty member Jonathan Kaplan, who saw an influx of refugee children in his daughter’s elementary school. What started as a small program in just one school quickly grew into a volunteer program with over 50 UT students working with Arabic, Persian and Pashto speaking students at 16 AISD schools, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
MES works with the AISD Refugee Support Office to assign volunteers to a specific school, and each student serves as a mentor to a small number of refugee students in that school for approximately 2-5 hours per week. MES also provides practical programmatic and language training to new student volunteers each semester.
The program seeks to help refugee children adapt to their new lives in America and acclimate to their roles as students. While many of these schools have English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, these programs are not well-suited for teaching students who speak Arabic or other languages not long-established in the Austin area. The Refugee Student Mentor Program not only fills a need within the local community, but it allows our students to learn about the cultures and experiences of refugees who are starting their new lives in America.
We are grateful to our partners, the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and the South Asia Institute, who help fund the Refugee Student Mentor Program.
How To Get Involved
If you are a UT Austin undergraduate or graduate student and you would like to put your language training to use helping students in the Austin community, please contact Asya Saydam. Student volunteers must complete AISD paperwork and attend a training session prior to volunteering.
If your school is interested in learning more about our program, please contact Asya Saydam.
When you give to the MES Refugee Student Mentor Program, you become a part of a program that impacts both UT Austin students as well as families all over the Austin area. Our students benefit from using the language(s) they learn at UT Austin, they gain professional experience, and they have a lasting impact on the community. Gifts from our friends and alumni help MES continue this important work in the community, creating a sustainable program that will benefit students and families for years to come.
Visit our giving page to learn more about giving to this or other MES programs.
News about the Refugee Student Mentor Program
- Strategies to Support Multilingual Learning in US Schools (Webinar featuring RSMP, the Washington University in St. Louis SALaMA program, and Qatar Foundation International)
- The Daily Texan (UT Refugee Student Mentor Program fundraises to cover transportation costs)
- CBS Austin (Austin ISD prepares to welcome more Afghan families to school)
- Community Impact (Austin ISD preps to welcome Afghan refugee students whose parents worked for U.S.)
- The Daily Texan (UT program provides mentorship to refugee students relocated from Afghanistan)
- KXAN Austin (How UT is adapting its refugee mentor program amid influx of Afghan students)
- The Daily Texan (Mentoring groups continue to support students in virtual setting)
- Life & Letters: College of Liberal Arts Magazine (Speaking the Same Language)
- Humanities for All (Goals of the Publicly Engaged Humanities, featuring the Refugee Student Mentor Program, Refugee Student Mentor Program Profile)
- KUT FM (UT Mentor Program Offers Young Refugees More Than Just A “Hello” In A Familiar Language, Refugees Are Leaving Austin, But It’s Not Because of a Travel Ban)
- YouTube (Refugee Student Mentor Program: UT Austin Students Volunteer to Help Refugee Children)
- Austin American-Statesman (Commentary: Doss Elementary models support for its refugee families)