New peer mentor program aims to help refugee students


Madison Carter, News reporter

For decades, Bowling Green has welcomed refugees and supported them as they adjusted to the city. The community is now increasing educational access for refugees. 

The newly created WKU Resilient Refugee Navigators Program is supporting refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced students through peer mentorship. 

The program pairs refugee students with current students who provide them with academic and emotional support, Lauren Reyes, assistant director of international student success, said. 

“Refugee students who come in, whether they’re traditional college age or older, they’re going to face a lot of challenges that are unique from the ones our domestic students are facing,” Reyes said. “We wanted to put together a program where incoming refugee students could be mentored by a current WKU student to have someone to show them the ropes.” 

Peer mentors are responsible for having weekly meetings with refugee students, helping them navigate campus resources and encouraging them to build relationships and expand their network, Reyes said.

New mentors will have weekly training sessions, and all mentors will meet monthly to ensure the program is working well. 

“We were really intentional in the mentors we selected so that they would be able to help refugee students feel at home,” Reyes said. “We had a really large and excellent pool of candidates.”

The program is being funded by a grant from the National Association of System Heads Catalyst Fund, Reyes said. The funds from NASH are going toward the creation of the program and the money paid to the mentors. 

Prior to the NASH grant, the Kentucky Innovative Scholarship Pilot Project allocated $915,000 to WKU to be used on scholarships for displaced students, supporting undergraduate students in international exchange programs and recruitment and outreach of displaced students, according to the Council on Postsecondary Education.

“Our office had already put together a task force to see how WKU could better serve the refugee population,” Reyes said. “Then we got the scholarship, which was awesome because it really opened a lot of doors.” 

The program is also in partnership with Refuge BG, a non-profit providing services to refugees, Reyes said. 

Maggie Fields, English academy coordinator at Refuge BG, worked with Reyes to select navigators and manage the program. 

“We really want these navigators to just be a good friend to these students,” Fields said. “A lot of them really need that emotional support.”

Emotional intelligence and empathy were the most important characteristics for the mentors to have, Fields said. 

“We really were looking for someone who was empathetic and could interact well with people who come from different backgrounds,” Fields said. “We were looking for people who just had a heart to serve these populations.”

Fields is hopeful that this program will help refugees build community and have more access to education. 

“As Bowling Green welcomes more refugees, I think it provides the tools they need to overcome barriers and succeed in a university setting,” Fields said.

News reporter Madison Carter can be reached at [email protected]