Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

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.

K-12 Teacher Training

In addition to managing the Refugee Student Mentor Program, MES also provides professional development opportunities for educators interested in learning more about working with refugees as part of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Outreach Program. In the past, MES has held workshops that included speakers from our volunteer program as well as professionals from various organizations in the Austin area who work on refugee resettlement.

Refugee Student Mentor Program in the News


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


Austin American-Statesman: 

Commentary: Doss Elementary models support for its refugee families



Refugee Student Mentor Program: UT Austin Students Volunteer to Help Refugee Children


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 Rama Hamarneh. 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 Rama Hamarneh.


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 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.

For More Information

For more information about this program, media inquiries or general questions, please contact Katie Aslan, Director of Outreach and Public Programs.

Four UT students talk about their personal experiences mentoring refugee students in the Austin Independent School District



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