Holistic 1:1 support for refugee college students

Tertiary education

Holistic 1:1 support for refugee college students

The project in brief

Implemented by

One Refugee (1R)




November 2014 - Ongoing

The project is ongoing and expanding. We began with 80 students in 2014 and are currently serving 284 students in Utah and Idaho.


We support college students from a refugee background by providing 1:1 mentoring, intensive professional development, and financial assistance.

Many barriers exist for college students from a refugee background in the U.S., including access to financial resources, navigation of a complex higher education system, and trauma from past and present experiences.

We provide 1:1 mentoring to help students access available resources, develop an education and career plan, and connect with professional development opportunities.

Project aims 

[One of the most helpful parts of the One Refugee program] is having that peace of mind that I had a plan. 1R made a huge impact by paying part of my tuition, taking off the stress of financials for school, as well as the little things like the books and having the [One Refugee] community.

- Fowzia Adan, Boise State University Graduate, 1R Graduate

We envision a world where individuals from a refugee background are prosperous, feel at home, and give back to the communities in which they live.

We measure this by tracking the following three goals:


  • Each graduate is in a professional career with room for growth
  • Each graduate is capable of living in financial security
  • Each graduate enjoys a connection to community

Resources used 

In 2014 at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Roger and Sara Boyer had been personally contemplating the refugee crisis and desired to find a responsible way to help the refugee community with a clear and lasting impact.

At the time, Utah was providing two-year case management support for newly-resettled refugees and many other resources for struggling refugee families.

However, Amy Wyilie, an employee of the state of Utah’s Refugee Services Office, helped the Boyers to see a critical gap in services. Wylie repeatedly witnessed the struggles faced by young adult refugees attempting to enter into the American higher education system and progress towards meaningful careers. More often than not, the lack of resources and difficult-to-navigate system resulted in families relying on entry-level jobs with little to no education. Wylie observed with even more discouragement that even children in refugee households raised in the U.S. struggled to qualify for and transition into higher education.

One Refugee was developed as a direct result of these experiences in an effort to provide holistic, wraparound services. One Refugee would be flexible enough to provide 1:1 support for students depending on their individual needs and circumstances.

Main activities of the Good Practice

One Refugee assists college students from a refugee background to navigate higher education (up to a bachelor’s degree) and to transition into the professional world. One Refugee focuses its efforts in three main categories:


One Refugee students are assigned an Education Manager who meets with them regularly, assesses needs, provides resources, and helps them to develop an education and career plan. The Education Manager meets at least once a month with students to follow up on plans, check on academic progress, and provide opportunities for growth. Students are referred to resources on campus to assist them in their success. These resources include tutoring, financial aid, and academic advising.

Professional Development

From the moment a student begins with the One Refugee program they begin working on their resume and their Education Manager alerts them to professional development opportunities (many of them run by One Refugee), including networking events, job shadowing, informational interviews, and internships.

Financial Assistance

One Refugee provides a last-in scholarship that covers the remaining balance of students’ tuition after government financial aid and other scholarships. One Refugee also financially assists with the cost of books, a laptop, eyeglasses, dental emergency care, mental health services, and emergency housing.


Challenges and how they were overcome



  • Low numbers of high school seniors academically prepared for college.
  • College graduates who are under-employed or unemployed because of lack of professional development guidance and opportunities.
  • Emotional trauma as a result of experiences in their home countries and also from resettling in a new place and culture.
  • Cultural barriers to professional development and the belief that higher education is important.

How they were overcome


  • We started a high school program to begin preparing refugee youth as early as 10th grade to prepare for college.
  • We developed corporate partners and began infusing professional development opportunities into our students to help them make the necessary connections and gain the professional skills to be employable upon graduation.
  • We have partnered with mental health providers to provide discounted or pro-bono mental health support to students in need.
  • 1R Alumni working to run programs and workshops within their own communities to advocate for higher education and professional development.

Results of the Good Practice 

Have you ever felt like you are in the perfect place for you? That is the only way I know how to explain my job. I love my job.

- Danny Abedi, David Evans and Associates, Inc., EIT Engineering Designer, 1R Graduate


  • 258 students from a refugee background have graduated from college.
  • Average salary of graduates is $48,000/year (USD), which is $18,000 more than the equivalent for high school graduates from a refugee background.
  • 1R graduates volunteer on average 3+ hours a month within the community.
  • 1R graduates are working in almost every industry through both Utah and Idaho and the younger generation is beginning to believe in the power of education.
  • During the pandemic, 1R graduates have played a crucial role as nurses and respiratory therapists.
  • Companies in Utah and Idaho are growing as they hire from a diverse talent pool.

How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

Higher education, professional development and networking help graduates obtain gainful employment, thus breaking the cycle of poverty and reliance on government funding.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

One Refugee assists and supports students pursuing higher education and helps them develop their professional skills so that when they graduate, they will have both the knowledge and skills to obtain gainful employment and to better their future.

Objective 4: Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity 

Several students express a desire to take what they learn back to their countries or to the refugee camps where they once lived. Many recognize that with the knowledge they have gained through education, they are able to help others, whether that be helping them start and fund business, providing medical care or going back to teach others.

Next steps 

One Refugee currently serves 284 students at 9 institutions throughout Utah and Idaho. We will continue to refine our processes and build out our professional development opportunities. We will also continue to engage our alumni so they can serve as mentors for current students.

We continue to grow year after year and are trying to keep up with the demand. We plan to enroll approximately 150 new students in 2021. As we receive more funding, we will look at expanding our services into other states in the United States (or internationally...depending on the funding).

Further support required for the project to continue or scale up


  • Building community partners and resources in the cities where we are supporting students, particularly in regard to employment, internship, professional mentors and wellness.
  • We rely on higher education institutions to continue to foster welcoming environments and provide resources for students.
  • Additional financial resources would allow us to expand our services to new locations in the U.S..