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Step-Up is a service-learning program designed to support high school students from immigrant and refugee families to successfully integrate into the United States of America. Under this program, University of Kentucky students provide academic and independent living skills mentorship to immigrant students in Lexington high schools. UK students can participate in this program as volunteer tutors/mentors or as part of their internship courses.

Key Activities & Services

UK students participating in this program are attached to local high schools and community organizations where they provide the following services to immigrant and refugee students:

  • Academic tutoring in reading, writing, mathematics, science, and other subjects
  • Assistance with SAT/ACT test preparation
  • Guidance on college applications and obtaining financial assistance
  • Guidance on financial decision-making and independent living skills
  • Mentorship on positive transition from high school to college

Rationale: Why Immigrant Students?

In 2019, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was the fifth highest ranking state in terms of refugee resettlement in the United States. Since then, the number of refugees settling in this state has continued to increase. For example, between October 2020 and September 2021, the Kentucky Office for Refugees resettled about 1500 Cubans, 1200 Congolese, and hundreds of others from countries such as Somalia, Burundi, Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Ukraine, etc. This is in addition to a growing number of “voluntary” migrants from different parts of the world. While migration has added to the state’s cultural diversity and economic growth, it has also created some challenges, especially for immigrants who arrive here with very little (if any) English language competency. Most immigrant families also come with no knowledge of the American education system. As such, their children often struggle to meet the expected standards in school and end up feeling burnt out and frustrated as they see themselves failing to achieve their dreams. Unlike their peers from non-immigrant families, most of these students have no- one to guide them navigate various challenges they face in school.

Potential Impact and Benefits

Step-Up has potential to be a highly impactful program for high school students from immigrant families as well the University of Kentucky students who participate in it. With the help of UK student tutors and mentors, high school students from immigrant and refugee families will likely experience a less stressful transition into the American education system. We also hope that direct interaction with UK students will inspire immigrant students to pursue college education and eventually achieve their dreams. Schools that host significant numbers of immigrant and refugee students will also likely see improvements in standardized test scores and overall ratings. As for UK student tutors and mentors, Step-Up allows them to actively engage in real-life experiences and gain practical skills and knowledge that complement their academic learning.

By working directly with high school students, schools and community organizations, UK students can find opportunities to apply theories studied in various disciplines and develop leadership, cultural tolerance, critical thinking, problem-solving and other skills they need to succeed in college and after graduation. This program will also open opportunities for the College of Arts & Sciences to develop partnerships with local high schools and other organizations that are providing various forms of support to immigrants and other minority groups in Kentucky.

Supporting the Step-Up Program                    

To ensure the Step-Up program's success, we rely heavily on recruiting dedicated UK student mentors who are passionate about empowering pre-college students from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. We understand that participation in this program requires significant dedication, including time and financial commitments from UK students, who may need to forgo work and cover their own transportation costs to engage with schools and community organizations. To alleviate this burden, we've established the Step-Up Fellowship, offering financial assistance to our student mentors. We invite you to partner with us in this important endeavor. Your support will help us expand the reach and impact of the Step-Up program, creating a brighter future for immigrant and refugee youth. By contributing to the Step-Up Fellowship, you directly empower both our student mentors and the pre-college students they serve. Your generosity will not only make a tangible difference in the lives of these deserving individuals but also foster a stronger, more inclusive community.

You can contribute by mailing a check made out to University of Kentucky, including "Step-Up Program in International Studies Fund" in the memo. The mailing address is:

UK Philanthropy

PO Box 910628

Lexington KY 40591

You can also call Dawn Smallwood at 859-258-2049 to process your gift over the phone.