Lizzie Edwards, SVR Volunteer interview with
Tanya Kimball Genn, Youth Services Manager at IRIS and Aamir Khan, an IRIS program participant
April 22, 2021
On April 22, 2021, I interviewed Tanya Kimball Genn, Youth Services Manager at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), to learn more about IRIS and its Higher Education Program. IRIS is a non-profit agency based in New Haven, Connecticut that helps resettle refugees and other displaced persons, and also provides additional support. The agency offers housing, employment, health, legal education, and case management services. Participants of the Higher Education program are mostly referred by other staff members, particularly case managers, as well as by other participants. Participants meet with Tanya to make individualized plans. IRIS’s Higher Education Program aims to make knowledge around applying and going to college more accessible. In addition to providing personalized mentoring, they also provide some financial support.
Tanya noted that there is often a lack of knowledge of how the United States higher education system works since it’s very complicated. A goal of the Higher Education Program is to provide information about how the system is set up so that participants feel confident and can make informed decisions about what would be best for them. Tanya notes that the mentoring process continues when the students reach college because there’s a gap between what students are taught and the reality of college. It can be difficult to adjust, so the Higher Education Program aims to make the transition more seamless for participants.
Tanya wishes that there were more opportunities for students with a background of forced displacement in Connecticut. Many of the clients she works with want to be close to their families or other people in their communities and/or have responsibilities. She recommends that more schools turn to people who are immigrants and refugees in their own communities and ask them what they need to make higher education more accessible.
Most clients of the Higher Education Program fall into three categories: high school students, adults who have some sort of degree already, and adults who want to begin higher education. As of now, the program has supported about 100 adults and about 60 high schoolers.
I also spoke with Aamir Khan, a recipient of the program, who was referred by his case manager. He reports having had a great experience with IRIS’s Higher Education Program. He receives assistance with registering for classes, financial support, and obtaining a Chromebook for his classes and coursework. Aamir says that when he has no idea where to go or who to talk to at this college, he talks with Tanya and she helps him figure out what direction he should go in. At the beginning of his time at his university, everyone spoke very fast in English and it was confusing for him. The Higher Education Program helped him figure out what was going on, but he wishes that for other refugee students, colleges would have a staff member that can assist refugee students. He said colleges need to have someone who speaks their languages who can serve as a translator.
Meet SVR Volunteer, lizzie Edwards
Lizzie Edwards (she/her) is a senior at Wesleyan University. She is majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Studies and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies. She currently serves as Co-President for Wesleyan Refugee Project, a student group that partners with local refugee resettlement agencies as well as domestic and international non-profits. She has interned with several organizations, including the resettlement office of Jewish Family Service of San Diego and Reclaim Childhood, a peace building organization which provides programming to Jordanian and refugee youth.