Building Partnerships with Refugees

October 4, 2017

Earlier this year, potential new travel restrictions led Iowa colleges and universities to act to reassure international students and scholars they are welcome here. Iowa’s colleges and universities continue to find new ways to partner with and support refugee, immigrant and international populations on campus and in local communities. One example is the Refugee Summit 2017 being hosted this Friday and Saturday at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines. Other examples include partnerships between organizations, courses, and refugee populations.

The Refugee Summit is a partnership with the United Way and the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa (which is an organizational partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach). It will include presentations by faculty and staff from the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and Mercy College of Health Sciences and is sponsored in part by Des Moines Area Community College.

Photo credit: Drake University

Also in Des Moines, Drake University has several programs to support refugees including a new initiative this past summer called the Community Research Summer Scholars Program. This three-week opportunity for immigrant and refugee youth provided a chance for them to tell their stories through a podcast series in partnership with Des Moines Public Schools.


At Grand View University, Associate Professor of Liberal Arts Heather Brady teaches a general education seminar on global and local immigrant and refugee communities. Over the last year her students have engaged in community-based learning in local organizations serving refugees like Zion Lutheran Church, p i 515, Genesis Inc and Najah Community Center. This fall, these students are working to support Global Vision Week 2017: Sharing Stories of Immigration and Belonging coming up October 16-20.

In Eastern Iowa, Cornell College and Coe College recently received a $50,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the development of a collaborative foreign language partnership, called “The Civic Humanities: A Foreign Collaboration between Coe and Cornell Colleges.” The project will develop programs to assist area non-profits with Spanish and French-speaking immigrants and refugees, support hospitals with language training, and offer language programs at area schools.

Partnerships like these provide an opportunity for college students and faculty to interact with and learn from refugees and support the success of those populations in Iowa communities. While many of the partnerships support external organizations, some are also seeking ways to support refugees on campus. This includes the University of Iowa Conversation Center. While not exclusively for refugee populations, the center’s programs help to connect Rhetoric students with students who want to build confidence and fluency in their English for conversation and cultural sharing.

Each of these programs and events provides an example of the many ways campuses are working to recognize the assets of refugee populations in student learning and help meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable Iowans.

This blog is part of our ongoing Giving Voice series highlighting collaborative and common ways colleges and universities are advancing the civic mission of higher education.