Refugees to College
Christina Smith, SVR volunteer interview with
David Kamper, Founder and Director, Refugees to College
January 22, 2021
Refugees to College is an internationally recognized organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that provides free ongoing consultations to refugees from all over the world with a professional background. This volunteer-based organization supports refugees who held professional degrees in their home countries by connecting them to educational opportunities that will help them advance beyond an entry-level job in the United States.
Refugees to College is an entirely volunteer-run organization. While it was initially led by students at the University of Michigan, now that some members, including founder and director David Kamper, have graduated, alums are involved as well. Lead volunteers with Refugee to College are called consultants, including David. When a refugee contacts the program, they are referred to a consultant for a one-on-one meeting. Because refugees can be anywhere in the world, all consultations and successive meetings take place over video call.
If a refugee is not deemed a good fit for the program, for example due to low English, they are referred elsewhere and provided assistance with enrolling in that new service. Those accepted work with their consultant ongoing to craft an action plan and pursue all of its components. The consultant and the “client”, as they say, meet once per week until all objectives have been achieved. Consultants come together on a monthly basis to discuss challenges, progress, and provide one another with feedback.
While the consultant is the primary point of contact for each refugee in the program, they are not necessarily going to be an expert on the specific career path of interest. That’s where the many other program volunteers, typically also University of Michigan students, come in. David loosely uses the term “mentors” to describe the volunteers who provide subsequent virtual assistance more related to the career field. Ultimately, the process is one involving much back and forth between the consultant, the refugee, and the various mentors, many of whom will be brought in all along the way as interests and needs are unveiled.
The target participant for Refugees to College is someone who was previously a professional in their home country but whose credentials do not transfer to the United States. Some examples include engineers, doctors, dentists, and lawyers. The program has also supported students straight out of high school, although they are usually referred to a college access program at their school or their guidance counselor. More recently, the program has been receiving requests from people living overseas in refugee camps, although those cases are difficult to accommodate due to travel restrictions. Potential clients typically find the organization in one of three ways: directly through the website, as a referral from an accreditation agency in Milwaukee, or through the UNHCR #WithRefugees Coalition webpage.
David is motivated by the desire to see refugees, regardless of their background, pursue the career they want, not one they are forced to take on in order to earn a paycheck. He recognizes that this does not always mean supporting someone in returning to their old career. He sees this as a new start for some people. One example he shared was of a man who worked as a computer scientist in his home country, but through his enrollment in Refugees to College, worked with his consultant on goal exploration and determined a new career path. David wants to work with other campuses to bring a similar program to them. He is already in conversations with University of Colorado Boulder and Arizona State about starting programs there.
Meet SVR Volunteer, Christina Smith
Christina Smith, SVR Steering Committee Member.
Christina Smith (she/her) is a Masters student in International Education Policy at University of Maryland where she studies higher education access for refugees and asylum seekers. She is thrilled to be a part of the Student Voices for Refugees Network! Prior to graduate school, she developed a college access mentoring program for refugee students in Baltimore through the BCCC Refugee Youth Project and UMBC, and also worked at the headquarters of a refugee resettlement agency.