Published June 5, 2017
To develop their winning idea at this year’s Global Innovation Challenge, team United Youth looked to their own individual experiences for inspiration.
Two of the four group members — Hemanta Adhikari and Pemba Sherpa — are refugees from Nepal. Another, Rosy Zel, is an immigrant from Myanmar. All three freshmen understand the role education can play in the life of an immigrant, as well as how important social support systems are to helping newcomers adjust to life in America.
“We know the importance of education because the school system in our country was not that great. That was one of the reasons we moved to the United States. Ever since we were young, we saw education as way to get rid of poverty in the world,” Adhikari said.
United Youth, which also includes Nicole Little, who graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture in May, proposed a social support network for high school-aged refugee students in Buffalo, with a focus on International Prep, Lafayette and Riverside high schools because of their high concentration of refugee students and low graduation rate.
“Our main goal is to facilitate a two-tier, social-support structure for newly arrived high school-aged refugees in order to improve both short-term health needs and positively influence long-term health needs,” Zel said.
These support networks will help high school-aged refugee students break through the non-academic barriers they face, including trauma they’ve experienced, bullying and feeling a loss of identity. “There are a lot of academic programs, but the graduation rate for refugees is still very low,” said Little, noting some of the other impediments newly arrived refugee high school students face.
The idea is to pair newly arrived refugee high school students with former refugees who can serve as mentors. In addition, group meetings will take place monthly to offer further support and guidance in an effort to bridge the gap between Western culture and the student’s native customs, especially when it comes to health and well-being.
In all, five groups presented ideas. United Youth won the overall award, while RHAT Pack won the Innovation Award.
This was the second annual Global Innovation Challenge. The event, which is sponsored by UB’s Community of Excellence for Global Health Equity, is an intensive, weeklong workshop where ideas to address a specific global health issue are developed, challenged, changed and refined.
“I know it’s been a really intense week,” CGHE Co-Director Pavani Ram told the student teams moments before the winners were announced Friday afternoon following the judges’ deliberation. “I think you can see what happens when you put numerous minds together from different disciplinary perspectives, how you can transform an idea and make it into something really new and bold.”
“Our larger vision has to do with the continuity of care and improving overall health and well-being, and the specific challenge we’ve taken on has to do with bridging that gap between Western and non-Western cultures of care,” added CGHE Co-Director Korydon Smith.
Students spent the first two days of the week hearing presentations from three GIC fellows — Grace Karambizi, Steven Sanyu and Saladi Shebule — and several guest UB faculty and community partner presenters. Next they formed groups and began formulating their ideas and pitches, receiving feedback and coaching from the fellows along the way. On Friday, each team pitched its idea to the judges.
A synopsis of each group’s idea: