UNI to showcase college benefits to refugees

UNI NEWS SERVICES – The University of Northern Iowa will welcome about 100 English-language learners from Waterloo West High School in an effort to both develop leadership skills in current students and showcase the benefits of higher education to potential first-generation college students.

Cara Burnidge and Yasemin Sari
Cara Burnidge and Yasemin Sari

The English Language Learners Youth Conference will take place this Friday and was organized by Philosophy and Study of Religion students, and UNI’s Panther Promise Program, in partnership with Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resources Center (EMBARC), a nonprofit founded by and for refugees of Burma living in Iowa.

The conference – the first of its kind at UNI – is the culmination of a semester of work in the fall by students of Cara Burnidge, assistant professor of religion, and Yasemin Sari, assistant professor of philosophy. Their students planned and organized the conference to help participants in EMBARC’s Youth Navigators program build their leadership skills and consider college as an avenue for further leadership to help their communities, Burnidge said.

The conference will include campus tours, leadership workshops and presentations from a variety of campus organizations and entities to help the high school students understand what it takes to be successful in college and outside of it.

“The program connects UNI to the surrounding community as an important reminder and statement that we care about the region the university is in,” Burnidge said. “We are empowering a community that, with a little support, can impact the Cedar Valley in new ways.”

Minorities of Burma (also known as Myanmar) fled from the longest running civil war in the world, Burnidge said. As a refugee relocation city, Waterloo is home to an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 minorities of Burma. Since 2008, refugees of Burma make up the largest refugee population in the United States.


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