Six Master of Social Work (MSW) students from immigrant and refugee communities have become the inaugural recipients of the Traudt Family Scholarship – and they plan to use the opportunity to improve social work services for others with immigrant and refugee backgrounds.  

The Traudt Family Scholarship, established in 2020 by Terri and Tim Traudt, offers up to $5,000 annually to MSW students who are scholars in the Area of Emphasis in Practice with People of Immigrant and Refugee Backgrounds. This emphasis within the MSW program provides specialized coursework, practice and leadership opportunities.  

Rita Rai

“My ultimate goals are to establish programs … geared toward serving the refugee communities and to educate mental health providers on how to provide culturally holistic mental health services to diverse populations,” recipient Rita Rai said. 

People who have immigrated to the United States – either by choice or as refugees – on average experience higher levels of mental health stress than do people who have not immigrated. Yet mental health and social work resources for and by people from immigrant backgrounds are severely lacking.  

These scholarship recipients aim to help address the tremendous need for these services.  

Each scholarship recipient is a first- or second-generation immigrant or refugee. First-generation students were born outside of the United States and then immigrated, while second-generation students have parents who were born outside the United States, but the student was born in the United States.  

June Way

In their scholarship applications, scholars shared their educational and professional aspirations and how the scholarship would help them achieve these goals.  

Some seek to address the direct and indirect consequences of forced displacement and life in refugee camps.  

“I plan to explore and address the psychological effect of living in refugee camps and years of experiencing oppression and civil war have on the Karen community,”  scholarship recipient June Way wrote. “I [want] to address family dynamics and structure, communication styles, spiritual rituals, cultural practices as well as social issues like employee exploitation, drugs and gang involvement among Karen youth, domestic violence, overcrowded housing, and uninhabitable housing conditions.” 

Others are focused on immigrant and refugee communities more broadly.  

Lis Andrade-Vital

Recipient Lis Andrade-Vital said, “I want to work with first- and second-generation youth along with their families so children can be children and families can thrive. We are all worthy of having access to affordable housing, food, health care, and to be at peace. When one community is marginalized, we all are.” 

The Traudts say the scholarship is all about showing what can happen when you put opportunity in the right places. 

“It was profoundly impactful to read the resumes and the applications of these students,” Terri Traudt said. “It’s unbelievable what they’re doing, especially given the pandemic. The inspiration is ours.”  

Luis Solis-Reyes

The six scholars and their families moved to the United States from around the world: from Mexico, Somalia, Bhutan and Burma, to name a few. Regardless of their background, they share a passion for putting their knowledge and skills to work on behalf of immigrant and refugee communities. 

“As an immigrant, I have made it my purpose to give back to the community because it is through the support of others that helped and assisted me and my family when we first arrived in the United States as immigrants,” recipient Luis Solis-Reyes said.  

Learn more about the Area of Emphasis in Practice with People of Immigrant and Refugee Backgrounds on the School of Social Work website.  

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