Coming Together to Help Newcomers

Flash Forward | Spring/Summer 2019
first-place-winning team from Kent State’s College of Public Health

The first-place-winning team from Kent State’s College of Public Health pose in front of the poster they presented at the Mission: Life international competition in November 2018. Left to right: Tam Nguyen, MPH candidate, Joud Roufael, BPH ’17, MPH ’19; Dania Mofleh, MPH candidate and Anthony Coetzer-Liversage, PhD candidate


A team of Kent State international graduate students from the College of Public Health drew on their life experiences as they created an award-winning mobile app to alleviate some of the challenges faced by newcomers to the United States.

The team took first place in the seventh annual Mission: Life competition, which focused on global immigration in the 21st century and was held last November at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

Anthony Coetzer-Liversage, PhD candidate (South Africa); Tam Ngoc Minh Nguyen, MPH candidate (Vietnam); Dania Mofleh, MPH candidate (Jordan) and Joud Roufael, BPH ’17, MPH ’19 (Syria), came together to propose and develop the Togetherness app.

Togetherness, as the name implies, aims to help immigrants integrate into their new communities and navigate better as they live in the US, says Mr. Roufael, who speaks English, Arabic and German. “It acts as a central hub for resources tailored specifically to an immigrant’s needs.”

A digital portal that would provide newcomers (including immigrants and international students) access to local resources, the app is searchable by demographic, language and need. Categories—which include educational, legal services, transportation, community, translator, local events, emergency, maps and FAQs—are displayed in English, with a side-by-side translation to a user’s native language so they can receive immediate help while learning more about US language and culture.

“It is based on our own experiences and lives as international students,” says Ms. Nguyen, a Fulbright scholar from Vietnam. “We have been facing challenges that are unique to us; we wanted to help ourselves and also people who will go through those hardships.”

Mission: Life, an interdisciplinary competition designed to address global sustainability issues while fostering innovative ideas and entrepreneurship, originated in 2012 at the Pontificia Universidade Católica do Paraná (PUCPR) in southern Brazil. Teams compete on the local level and advance to the international competition.

Kent State hosted Mission: Life VI in fall 2017, which focused on global sustainable development in the 21st century. Kent State’s 2017 team won the “People’s Choice” award for its idea to divert food waste from the landfill stream and convert it into electricity.

The 2018 team participated in the competition with the support of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Global Education, LaunchNET and faculty advisors Edgar Kooijman, PhD, director of Kent State’s Biotechnology program and associate professor in biological sciences; J.R. Campbell, executive director of the Design Innovation Initiative; and Kendra Lapolla, assistant professor in The Fashion School.

This year’s winning team plans to incorporate the feedback they’ve gained, from the competition and other sources, to move forward with the development of the application for the market.

— April McClellan-Copeland


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POSTED: Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 1:34pm
UPDATED: Friday, May 17, 2019 - 5:42pm