January 22, 2021
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. If they are deemed a good fit, they continue to work with that 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. A consultant is likely working with three to five clients at any given time. Consultants all 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, the consultant is not necessarily going to be an expert on the specific career path of interest. That’s where the many other program volunteers, 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. The consultant is always actively engaged as well, especially as goals sometimes change. 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. Overall, Refugees to College receives more requests than it has the capacity to support. Potential clients typically find the organization in one of three ways: directly through the website, as a referral from the accreditation agency UCE (ECE?) 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 who always hated the work. The man held this role simply because it was what was expected of him. Through his enrollment in Refugees to College, the man worked with his consultant on goal exploration and crafted an action plan that involved exploring different career paths.
David wants these opportunities to be available to many more refugees and wishes his organization could accept more clients. However, at this time, they are focusing on improving the quality of their services, which means keeping their numbers down. That said, 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.
Christina Smith, SVR volunteer interviewed David Kamper from Refugees to College and wrote the following
Watch the full interview
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.