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Richters you should know: Nombuso Dlamini, Sandra Khouri, Andrew Smyrniotis

Through their research under Professor of Economics and Business Les Dlabay, Dlamini, Khouri, and Smyrniotis are each uncovering new solutions to the problems facing refugees.

Dlamini is an economics major and entrepreneurship and innovation minor; Khouri, an economics and philosophy double major with a legal studies minor; and Smyrniotis, a business major. They are all Richter Scholars you should know.

Q: What is your area of focus on this project?

Dlamini: My focus is youth entrepreneurship and the challenges that refugees face. Over the years, entrepreneurship has been shown to improve relations between countries and regions. Looking at entrepreneurship under refugee conditions, I’m focusing on how entrepreneurship can include relations between non-refugees and refugees, and how it can also improve refugee conditions. 

Smyrniotis: I’m conducting my research with a focus on alternative lending services and how these services enable entrepreneurship for people living on less than a few dollars a day. Since looking into this more, I’m studying what financial services refugees are currently using and how we can expand financial services to refugees—or just to people, in general, who don’t have access to financial services.

Khouri: My focus is on education among Syrian refugees. I’m determining who is educated, who isn’t, and what barriers for education exist. Even those who are educated often don’t get their education recognized in the American system, making them less eligible for jobs they otherwise could do. For example, if you receive a higher education degree from somewhere like Syria and you come to the United States, that degree is not recognized. I’m also looking at barriers in children’s education, because about 50 percent of refugees are under the age of 15. I want to look at what kinds of barriers they face, what kinds of paths they could potentially take, and propose a solution, such as an organization that could look at what kind of issues exist and offer a refugee lesson plan or provide resources to put them back on track.

Q: What has the experience of doing research with a professor been like for you?

Dlamini:  I’ve learned so much from Professor Dlabay, which has helped me figure out what I want to focus on in my career. Working with him has exposed me to many other people and opportunities, which I know will continue. I’m excited about making those future connections.

Smyrniotis: It’s been awesome, because he brings a lot of energy, clearly. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot of ideas, and he knows a lot of people.

Khouri: And he has a lot of documents. There is even a packet of helpful information he gave us that is 80 pages.

Smyrniotis: He’s got a lot going on.

Khouri: He brings in a lot of people who have worked in areas of Africa and other places. It’s cool because they have experiences with other cultures.

Dlamini: And some of them knew about my home—I’m from Swaziland—so that’s pretty cool.

Khouri: It’s great talking with him on this topic and how it could apply to one of his classes. We talk about what it’s like to write a senior thesis and how your educational career is going to look after this summer. He brings a lot of his Richters back to work with him in future summers and he helps them get internships. It’s nice having someone watch out for you.

Q: What are you learning from this research project?

Smyrniotis: I’m learning how to do a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t know how to do, like how to tie interviewing and presenting together. I’m also learning to do research on my own and set my own guidelines.

Khouri: I’m getting a headstart on my senior thesis. This is a subject I can use to tie in both of my majors pretty easily. It’s also something I have resources for, so a few years down the line I can repeat this process and interview a few more people and have a thesis.

Dlamini: This links my majors and fulfills “what I want to do when I grow up.” I want to go into development, whether it’s business development or economic development. Looking into refugees and entrepreneurship is a field I never thought of exploring but it fits well, considering that I actually do want to improve people’s lives.

Q: Has this project required working as a group or individually?

Dlamini: It’s a bit of both. We have group meetings maybe three times a week. That helps us set our pace and then we go out and do our own thing. 

Smyrniotis: In group meetings, we discuss where we’re at and what direction we’re taking, which keeps us on pace. During our meeting today, we laid out a framework and a plan for our whole project.

Khouri: Professor Dlabay also brings in speakers for the group, which is really helpful because they’ve been people from different backgrounds than our’s who have worked for different charities for immigrants and refugees. They tell us a lot. 

Q: What’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned?

Smyrniotis: I was trying to look into how refugees send and receive money from each other, and I’ve learned that apps like Whatsapp and Skype are being used in this massive underground process that’s illegal in many places because you can send money basically undetected. They just completely maneuvered around the system to avoid traditional money transfer fees. 

Khouri: When I was looking up data, I was shocked by how many Syrian refugees were children. I know that when children come to a different country it’s easy for them to pick things up very quickly, like the language, as long as they are in school. The bigger issue is the people over 20 who aren’t in school and just have to go straight to work. They don’t get the language training or the resources. They can get depressed or scared and they’re doing work they’re overqualified for. They’re just stuck.

Dlamini: For me, it was realizing that people’s qualifications mean nothing when they move from one place to another. You can train to be a doctor, but when you move here, they tell you you aren’t qualified to be a doctor.

–By Tracy Koenn and Sophie Mucciaccio