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UST Hosts College Day for Refugee Youth

UST Hosts College Day for Refugee YouthAs a young refugee, it can be difficult to navigate the educational system in a new country. To provide more information about applying to college and life as a college student, the University of St. Thomas held a College Orientation Day for high-school aged refugees through the Partnership for the Advancement & Immersion of Refugees (PAIR) on Nov. 12.

PAIR was founded as a club at Rice University to respond to the needs of local refugee youth, who have been displaced by conflict and are unable to return to their home countries. Now a non-profit organization, the Global Leaders program of PAIR, meets on a weekly basis to prepare high school-aged refugee students for success in high school and beyond with academic and career planning, SAT preparation, college essay writing, job interview skills and composing a resume.

UST student Jaime Sepulveda, a senior International development major, began volunteering with PAIR this semester, and was invited to help organize the College Orientation Day at UST.
“I was drawn to PAIR for the opportunity to volunteer in a multicultural environment,” Sepulveda said. “In just a short time, I have built great relationships with the middle school youth I work with in an afterschool program, and I was honored that PAIR asked me to arrange for the COD to be at St. Thomas.”

The College Orientation Day included an overview of admissions and tips for the college application process from Arthur Ortiz, UST director of freshman admissions. It continued with a student panel comprised of current UST students of different majors. Washington Massaquoi, an MLA student from Liberia studying International studies, also addressed the youth about being a foreign student in the United States, the phases of culture shock and good study habits.

For lunch, the youth experienced eating in a college cafeteria in the Celt Marketplace, and afterwards, toured the University, including the Guinan Residence Hall and the Jerabeck Gym.
“I truly believe in the mission of PAIR and feel that it is really great to encourage youth to start thinking about college early,” Sepulveda said. “The College Orientation Day was made successful through the help of many student volunteers and UST faculty and staff.”

Through afterschool, weekend and summer programs that support refugee youth from when they arrive in Houston to the time of their high school graduation, PAIR allows refugees to pursue an educational path that will improve their quality of life and fully develop their potential.

Nicole Ellis, the Executive Director of PAIR said the orientation day provided refugee high-schoolers a glimpse into the life of a college student.

“We hope that it will motivate them to pursue higher education and realize their dreams in the United States,” Ellis said. “We are grateful to the entire St. Thomas community, its energetic students, the Center for International Studies, the Admissions Office, Food Services and many more, for helping to make our College Orientation Day a success.”

For more information about PAIR or to volunteer, visit or contact