According to the Idaho Office for Refugees statistics, there were 686 refugees from 20 different countries whocame to Idaho in 2012. All of these refugees will have to obtain citizenship within seven years of their arrival in the United States. Some of them are without any English background, and some are illiterate, even in their native tongue.
Assistant professor, Casey Keck, P.h.D., of the Boise State English Department has taken on the challenge of connecting Boise State students with the refugee population in the Boise community. With a Ph.D in applied linguistics, Keck and her team are working to help get elder refugees’ English proficiency levels high enough to pass the citizenship test.
Keck is working in conjunction with Project SHINE, a nationwide program for refugee integration into American lifestyles and prevention of elder refugee isolation. The project that was started at Temple University has now spread across the United States with programs in 17 different states.
“The largest program is at San Francisco State, where I last worked and got my start with Project SHINE,” Keck said.
The Boise State volunteer staff for Project SHINE consists of seven people, a promising number considering this is the first year of the program.
“The idea was pitched to me in the 2011-12 school year; we launched the first course in the spring of 2013,” Keck said. Classes such as Linguistics 310 and Linguistics 424 with a service-learning component generate most of the volunteers for the project.
Keck’s motivation and inspiration to take on the coordinator position for such a hefty project came from her linguistic and education backgrounds.
“My first job out of college was teaching English as a Second Language, which led to an interest in research and teaching other teachers,” Keck Said.
From Atlanta, Ga. she moved to Flagstaff, Ariz. and carried out the rest of her schooling with a masters in teaching of English to speakers of other languages or TESOL and then finally her Ph.D. in applied linguistics.
There is a research portion to the Project SHINE development phase. In this development, Stephen Gibson, Keck’s graduate assistant, is looking into designing a master’s project along with volunteering with SHINE.
“I want to compile translations of the American Citizen Manual so the students can learn about the American government at home in their native tongue and then focus on English in class,” Gibson said.
This is just one idea of a way to make all of the strange material that the refugees have to learn for the citizenship test more relatable.
The project is newly launched, newly funded and thus far having a very positive impact on refugee elders and on Boise State students alike. As more professors gain awareness of the project and how it can lend to service learning options in classes, the program grow.
Students with any interest in helping or volunteering with Project SHINE can contact assistant professor Casey Keck at firstname.lastname@example.org.