2019 Heiskell Award Winner: Higher Education in Emergencies
University of Evansville
Scholars for Syria: Transforming Lives and Building Community
Scholars for Syria: Transforming Lives and Building Community, inspired by a group of 100 University of Evansville students, faculty and staff concerned with the human cost of the Syrian refugee crisis, has evolved into a complex initiative designed to change perceptions about the crisis and provide new pathways to higher education for displaced students. The initiative’s mission is three-fold: to educate the university and surrounding community about the Syrian conflict, to support Syrian students and their families, and to alleviate the suffering of refugee families, funding scholarships and charities for Syrian students and their families.
Since initiating Scholars for Syria, the university has enabling 25 displaced Syrian students to pursue their undergraduate degree at the University of Evansville. So far, 13 have graduated – all with impressive academic records – and are now either participating in optional practical training (OPT), gainfully employed, or enrolled in graduate schools. In addition, eight Syrian students are matriculated and making progress towards their degrees, and another four students have joined their families in seeking asylum in other countries. The university inaugurated a specific scholarship fund for displaced Syrian students, and the university is planning additional outreach to donors and the community to leverage more resources in support of displaced students.
While the University of Evansville sends over 50 percent of its students abroad, incorporating displaced students on campus has transformed the entire campus community’s capacity for understanding and empathy, according to university officials. Welcoming over two dozen remarkable Syrian students to the university family provided the campus with new perspectives and an opportunity to explore complex issues of human rights, diversity, inequality, international security, global politics, immigration, and various faith traditions.
In addition to providing scholarships to Syrian students, Scholars for Syria also engages the larger community in complex conversations around the Syrian crisis. The group developed a speakers’ series with monthly lectures and panel discussions, which proved to be popular, with 115 attendees at each. University of Evansville students from the United States and Syria also conducted classes in six area high schools, which reached 226 students. The classes measured high school students’ knowledge and attitudes about Syria, refugees and immigration before and after the modules, finding that their knowledge and perceptions of displaced persons improved before and after the modules.
The University of Evansville received the Higher Education in Emergencies award in recognition of the institution’s successful approaches and strategies for supporting students and scholars who have been displaced from their home country due to violence, political persecution, or other emergent circumstances. Scholars for Syria is affiliated with IIE’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education Crisis, a network of colleges and universities providing scholarships for Syrian students whose education has been disrupted as a result of the war; and Jusoor, a global scholarship program for Syrian youth.