Olivia Issa, SVR Co-Chair, Interview with

Erin FitzGerald, Salve Regina’s Scholarship for Syrian and International Students Impacted by International Crisis

April 1, 2021

Salve Regina Scholarship for Refugees

In 2019, Salve Regina started a scholarship program to sponsor one student with a displacement background from abroad each year to study at the school. The college has a small undergraduate population of 2,000 undergraduate students, and the school follows Catholic values of social justice, which makes for a campus that is welcoming of refugee students socially as well as financially. The scholarship covers tuition and fees, and is funded by the university through tuition waivers. Additionally, the school offers each student a job on campus, mainly at The office of International Programs for the sake of additional financial support – and also because having proof of secure employment is beneficial in the student visa application process. Erin FitzGerald, the Director of International Programs, is the primary staff member who facilitates this scholarship with support of the college’s staff and administration. Upon arrival, Erin provides mentorship to scholarship recipients, working one-on-one to make sure students’ social, academic, and financial needs are met. 

The program collaborates with IIE Syria Consortium and Syrian Youth Empowerment Program to reach out to student applicants, though they consider applicants outside of those programs, as well. Additionally, in figuring out how to navigate accreditations when many students can not access official transcripts, they work with Education USA  to “put the puzzle pieces together” of students’ education histories. To apply to the university, students send their Common Application through the school like they normally would, then apply separately to the Scholarship for Syrian and International Students Impacted by International Crises. Erin then considers each application on an individual basis, and narrows it down to one student to receive the scholarship each year. Erin works hard to ensure that each applicant receives fair consideration. Erin’s dedication to this program is what makes it so great; all the work she does is voluntary, and she goes above and beyond to make sure each student is accounted for. 

Upon acceptance to the scholarship program, Erin usually offers students a position working in The Office of International Programs. This is an important step in the process, because having proof of employment helps in the student visa application process, and because having a predicted source of income is vital for some recipients to ensure they can afford living expenses. Once arriving at Salve Regina, students are welcomed into the school environment, and receive guidance from international student advisors, and in particular, older recipients of the scholarship. This guidance is crucial to support students in their adjustment to campus.

Erin provided several recommendations for students or faculty hoping to propose a program like hers at their own universities, first of which being: find a way to connect the goals of the program you hope to start to the mission of the university. For Erin, this meant focusing on the school’s religious roots and dedication to social justice. Additionally, it is crucial to outline how this is a mutual exchange; student recipients of this scholarship receive a chance at higher education that they may not otherwise have access to, while the institution’s environment is enriched by the experiences that student recipients share with their peers. In all, Erin emphasized that this can be a highly plausible and sustainable program if faculty and staff are willing to put the time and passion into it.

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Meet SVR Co-Chair, Olivia Issa

Olivia Issa, SVR Steering Committee Co-Chair; Co- Executive Director of No Lost Generation, The George Washington University.

 

Olivia Issa (she/her) is a third year undergraduate student at The George Washington University studying political science and Arabic. Olivia is the Co-Executive Director of No Lost Generation GWU (NLG GWU), a student-led refugee-advocacy group on GWU's campus, and the Co-Chair of the Student Voices for Refugees Steering Committee. For the past six years, Olivia has been engaged with refugee-advocacy and resettlement work in Chicago and Washington D.C., volunteering and interning with resettlement agencies and refugee aid providers throughout both cities.

Learn more from one of Salve Regina Scholarship recipients here