Civilians trapped in and fleeing from Aleppo, Syria, caught the attention of Kellie Warren ’17 as she finished her degree in English. She looked for ways to help refugees, like donating money and blankets.
“At a certain point I just thought, I want to do more,” she recalls. “If I could find a way to really permanently change someone’s life, the way education would….”
When her final semester started in January 2017, she was going to Cal Lutheran events with a petition from Books Not Bombs, an organization dedicated to establishing U.S. scholarships for some of the 200,000 Syrian college students with no place to study. But the campaign hit a major snag when President Trump signed the first travel ban against people from several majority-Muslim countries.
Wanting to move quickly, Warren decided to reach out to the university administration on her own. She wrote an email to President Chris Kimball.
“The nice thing about being at a small school is you can do something like that,” she said. “He emailed back and said, ‘I would love to meet with you sometime.’”
After graduation and a trip to England, Warren took a binder of statistics to a meeting in July with Kimball. By October, she was on the phone with university administrators, Books Not Bombs managing director Shiyam Galyon and others to plan next steps.
The result? As a new member of the IIE Consortium for Syrian Higher Education in Crisis, Cal Lutheran plans to enroll its first Syrian refugee student this coming fall from the small population already resettled in the U.S. The scholarship will cover tuition and fees and will be renewable with good academic progress.
The biggest surprise for Warren, a former Morning Glory editor and Mark Van Doren Poetry Prize winner, was how fast this came about. The work with Books Not Bombs also led to her current internship with the documentary film 8 Borders, 8 Days, which follows a Syrian refugee family’s path to a new life in Germany. Warren finds venues for screenings and raises funds so that the family can attend some of them.
“So many times, when people think about refugees, it’s just kind of a concept,” she said. “It doesn’t really hit you what they’ve been through until you’ve seen it with your own eyes.” —Kevin Matthews