Helping refugees through technology | Tweet embed

Since 2019, Associate Professor Milad Mozari of the Department of Interdisciplinary Design (MDD) in the School of Architecture and Planning at U University, has worked with Binion Center and the International Rescue Committee (IRC in Salt Lake City) Using technology to assist the refugee community in their resettlement process in Utah.

More than 70 MDD students have participated in this innovation hub called ‘Bridging the Gap’, an initiative that has become a collaborative space where immigrants and refugees, who have historically had unequal access to technology, discover ways to augment their digital technologies. Literacy.

Working with children, peers, adults and seniors, students of each classroom collaborate with IRC clients on different emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR).

“We learned that some people are reluctant to leave their homes when they settle in a new country,” Mozari said. Our clients come from countries that have been hit by war and have had traumatic experiences, so we don’t want them to feel rushed in a new instant environment. The VR experience is a solution, which is why it is a positive addition to be incorporated into their cultural orientation system. “

Bridging the Gap has helped students in interdisciplinary design think carefully and use technology to teach many things that might seem implied to locals but are very different from others, culturally. Using their design skills—applying graphics, and essentially without language—the students allow clients from different countries to experience everyday situations such as visiting the library, shopping at the grocery store, using trails and how to take a bus.

real experience

Students begin their work in class, develop facts (360a videos). Next, they attend weekly cultural orientations to work with refugees from West Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia to receive feedback from their clients.

“My group shot a series of videos that captured what we call basic needs: transactions,” said Mia Nguyen, a junior MDD student. “We focused on a virtual reality learning module at the grocery store, as this was the service we felt would be used the most by incoming customers. As a first-generation American on my father’s side, shopping in Vietnamese grocery stores as a child is a beautiful memory that connects me to his culture.” I wanted to incorporate an aspect of cultural integration, rather than assimilation into my guidance video, to allow those seeking refuge to feel connected to their existing personal cultures.”


The mission of the University of Utah Bennion Center is to inspire and mobilize people to strengthen communities through learning and advocacy, goals aligned with every component of the Bridging the Gap project.

“Professor Mozari’s project connects refugee communities, U of U students, and faculty in deeply engaging learning experiences that have positive impacts for all,” said Amy Seiboul, associate director of Curriculum and Scholarships at the Binion Center. “The Innovation Center he established at IRC in Salt Lake City to support digital access and technical literacy among refugees in Utah is an incredible resource and a perfect example of cultural relevance. community learning. “

For IRC in Salt Lake City, the project was central to the participants in their adaptation to American culture.

“The digital divide is one of many challenges facing refugees and New Americans (R&NA) striving for full social, economic and civic integration,” said Kristi Nellermo, director of the education program at IRC in Salt Lake City. “In partnership with the class, our software has been able to create supplemental virtual reality learning modules to prepare new students and their parents for the American school atmosphere, helping students and caregivers feel more comfortable while navigating the American school system.”

Participants can access the modules on their smartphones during cultural orientations for newly resettled refugees, increasing participation and enjoyment of the training.

“We engage the community in what we learn,” Mozari said. “We provide technology to new students and neighbors, and collaboratively share it with our community, to do something meaningful and shorten the current emerging technology gap.”

The Bridging the Gap team is currently working on the next phase of the project, which includes designing VR kits that IRC customers in Salt Lake City can take home to continue their learning experience. If you are interested in supporting the program, please contact Mozart’s birthday.