A team of Maxwell School faculty led by Jennifer Karas Montez and Shannon Monnat have been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to support their research on geographic disparities in midlife mortality. Montez, University…
Newhouse Junior Aims for Career in Refugee Policy Advocacy
This October, she received the Voyager Scholarship from the Obama Foundation, awarded to students who bridge divides and work to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.
Inspired by misconceptions surrounding migration, she’s currently working toward a career in policy advocacy for refugees and displaced families.
01What was the moment you decided to pursue a career in policy advocacy for refugees?
After reading memoirs and stories about migration journeys, including refugees’ perspectives, I wanted to work in advocacy for them. My generation grew up watching the Syrian refugee crisis on the news, and as I look back at some of the narratives, it explains why there are misconceptions surrounding migration.
I would like to help deconstruct [those] because biased or incomprehensible narratives can have harmful consequences. Personally, I’ve been fascinated by migration because my own parents are immigrants [from Egypt].
02What was the application process like for the Voyager Scholarship and how did you feel once you received it?
The Voyager [scholarship] was an intense application process, as it had numerous parts, but not a lot of time before its deadline. It included detailing my public service work, a video component and other questions about my hopes and goals.
I remember sitting in a café with my sister when I got the email that I had received it. I was speechless and so grateful, and I remember just hugging my sister in the middle of a café. It was an emotional moment for me because I felt like I had the support to pursue my interests and do so without worrying about a financial burden. Joining this program with other students and mentors who are also passionate about public service is amazing and has given me a lot of hope for our generation.
03You mentioned how the scholarship includes a summer voyage. Can you explain what that is and how you plan to use it?
A summer voyage means I will be working on a project related to my public service interests, which can be done anywhere, and this scholarship will fund the expenses for it.
I’m currently in the process of finding an organization I’d like to work with over the summer, and my goal is to get more hands-on experience to learn about working with migration policies and issues, particularly in advocacy and asylum services
04You worked with professor Nausheen Husain on a data journalism project around the Muslim travel ban. What was that project like?
For this project, two other students and I helped clean, sort and analyze the data which Professor Husain and journalist Rowaida Abdelaziz collected. We determined findings from the data that supported the story’s demonstration of the impact of the travel ban and then created data visualizations that are included in the story.
[It] was really eye-opening for me because it humanized the impact of the travel ban but it was based on data. After working on this project, I knew I had an interest in advocating for immigrants and refugees because their stories are often untold or misrepresented, which can have severe consequences in policies or public attitudes.
05You are currently studying abroad at the Syracuse University center in London. What are you doing there to help expand your horizons around your advocacy work?
I’m currently taking a class called Multicultural London in which I’m learning about the United Kingdom’s history and current politics related to migration. We’ve looked at immigrants that fled from religious persecution, those that arrive for economic opportunities and asylum seekers.
London is an ideal location to learn about these issues because it is a major topic here, as migration was a major reason behind Brexit. Moreover, I’m planning to volunteer at Migrateful Cookery School, which is a charity in London whose mission is to empower refugees and migrants and support their integration by helping them run cooking classes.
06Back in Syracuse, how are you involved on campus?
One of my main involvements on campus is the Student Association, where I am the vice president of university affairs. Through this, I’ve planned mental health awareness weeks, advocated for wellness days and implemented trolleys to take students to grocery stores. Additionally, I’m involved in the Perception Literary Magazine and was an FYS [First Year Seminar] peer mentor last year for three different classes. Over the summer, I began volunteering with CNY InterFaith Works to help develop programs and other relevant resources for refugees and the organization.
Story by Zach Infeld ’26, a magazine, news and digital journalism major in the Newhouse School and international relations major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs