Activities & Organizations News

Refugees connect with UH’s Arab community through the IRESE Fellowship

IRESE Fellowship

The IRESE Fellowship helps high school aged Arab refugees develop a sense of community with UH’s Arab community. | Courtesy of Samina Salim

The new Incubator of Racial Equity in STEM Education fellowship led by the UH College of Pharmacy is hoping to empower and inspire recent Arab refugee high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through working with undergraduate mentors and tutors.

Twelve Arabic-speaking undergraduates will lead STEM enrichment activities, serve as role models and promote self-confidence in the refugee children.

“A heartbreaking aspect which became apparent during the study is the negative impact bullying, name-calling, bias and racism have on the Arab refugees immigrant children,” said IRESE leader Samina Salim. “Clearly, the sociocultural adversities of racism pose cumulative risk factors in these high-risk children, who already have faced extreme adversities of war and displacement.”

Mental health problems and traumatic grief are commonly found in refugee children, and they are usually accompanied by academic, behavioral and social integration difficulties. Feelings of rejection, bias and isolation at school are associated with higher school dropout rates. Increased involvement of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems have also been reported

This project evolved out of Salim’s work in collaboration with the department of psychology. Initially, they examined the psychological and physiological impact of ethnic stereotyping and racism on Houston-based Arab refugee children, which revealed many socioeconomic and health disparities.

So, in an effort to provide stability and structure that the refugee children may potentially need, they decided to start a STEM mentoring program to fill a gap in role models that these high school aged students could relate to.

“We looked inwards and realized that UH has a significant number of Arab undergraduate students,” Salim said. “UH’s Arab students would get the opportunity to give back to their community while enriching their own professional development, and this would support and improve group identification and belonging among Arab refugee and immigrant youth.”

The IRESE fellowship is based on Salim’s earlier work with biology senior Zain Akbar, who was a UH Action Research in Communities scholar. Through the ARC program, Akbar and Salim conducted a pilot project involving the online tutoring and mentoring of 13 Houston-area Syrian refugees.

“I was interested in pursuing this project after working with individuals from marginalized communities through the Writing to Inspire Successful Education program,” Akbar said. “I felt the need to reach out to other communities that faced similar challenges. The Syrian refugee community in Houston was a community that I felt was being overlooked.”

Akbar will now work with Salim on the administration of IRESE rather than directly tutoring. He looks forward to helping with outreach, fellow selection and coordination of funds to provide the children with field trips and other engaging learning opportunities throughout the semester.

IRESE is funded through a $40,000 grant from the Cougar Initiative to Engage, which Salim will also use to study the effects of culturally competent STEM tutoring and enrichment activities on Arab refugee and immigrant youths’ quality of life, using a psychometric analysis instrument customized for this population.

If the IRESE incubator project is successful, she can submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation for an extension into a nationwide study.

The fellowship is a semester-long commitment for STEM majors fluent in English and Arabic, with a $1000 stipend in exchange for 15 hours per week of mentoring and tutoring.

Students interested in applying for spring 2022 are required to submit a resume and statement of interest to [email protected] before Jan. 15.

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