Imagine fleeing untenable conditions in your homeland. While you may feel relief, you’re immediately confronted with uncertainty and frustration, as you learn to navigate a new country, a new language and a new culture. Piled on top of your worries are concerns about making a living, creating a home and ensuring a stable environment for your loved ones.
Overriding everything is your health and the health of your family.
“Refugees and immigrants are in a vulnerable situation for many reasons and health is always a dimension,” says Utah State University undergraduate researcher Rachel Hyman. “It’s hard to separate health from well-being.”
Hyman and fellow undergrad researchers Timothy “Tim” Light, working in partnership with the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection (CRIC), a non-profit organization located in Logan, are investigating health care disparities and outcomes among Cache Valley’s burgeoning immigrant community. Among their goals is to develop resources to help newcomers navigate the challenges of the American health care system and gain access to needed services. They also hope to lay the foundation for a refugee-led community health board.
Hyman and Light are among about 30 USU undergraduates, who’ll present their work to state legislators and visitors in Utah’s Capitol Rotunda in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. The annual Undergraduate Research Day, initiated by USU in 2000, is designed to showcase the importance of research in undergraduate education.
Both human biology majors and aspiring physicians, Hyman and Light bring varied skills and experience to their research endeavor, which began to take shape in early 2019. Hyman, a post-baccalaureate student who holds a bachelor’s in ecology and a master’s in clinical psychology and global health, entered Utah State during summer 2018 to prepare for medical school. Light has extensive experience in international humanitarian work, including service as a USU Jon M. Huntsman School of Business Small Enterprise Education and Development (SEED) intern in the Philippines.
“The idea for this pursuit was inspired by a similar program established by a Somali physician and refugee in the Seattle area,” Hyman says. “I began sharing this idea on campus and in the community and was directed to associate professor Jess Lucero in USU’s social work program. Jess, who was instrumental in getting CRIC launched and serves on its board, agree to serve as the principle investigator of our project and faculty mentor to Tim and I.”
Lucero, CRIC board president, says refugees bring immense strengths to Cache Valley.
‘Their resiliency in the face of what is often a traumatic journey to resettlement adds important social capital to our community,” she says. “USU students have a unique global opportunity to learn from local refugee and immigrant communities in Cache Valley, as they partner with agencies like CRIC in community-engaged research.”
In organizing the project, Hyman received an additional boost as a member of the inaugural cohort of Peak Summer Research Fellows.
“Participating in the 10-week Peak fellowship program provided funding help, but it was also a great learning and networking experience,” she says. “Funding for undergraduate research is so important, because it gives students, whose resources are limited and who may be juggling jobs with studies, the breathing room to pursue the seed of an idea.”
“Many of us are paying for school, while supporting ourselves and a family,” he says. “Without support, we could never pursue research with the focus and time required for a meaningful outcome.”
Hyman says Cache Valley is an ideal place to pursue the project, because the area, with its agricultural and manufacturing industries, offers numerous employment opportunities for new residents. In addition, the local community is welcoming to newcomers.
“Logan is likely the largest growing resettlement area in Utah outside of Salt Lake City,” she says. “Yet, most of the public funding to aid refugees and immigrants in concentrated in the state capital.”
Hyman and Light hope that can change.
“Gov. Herbert’s letter to President Trump asking that more refugees be allowed to settle in Utah is huge,” she says. “It’s a critical gesture and we hope it prompts more support for people who find themselves in this situation.”