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#YouAreWelcomeHere Week 2020: First #YAWH Scholars’ Passion Projects Take Shape

“Being a #YouAreWelcomeHere (#YAWH) scholarship winner carries great responsibility. To win, students must devise a project to bridge cultures and bring international communities together,” said International Admissions Counselor, Kristina Danielle Bolton, who manages the #YAWH Scholarship Program.

In 2020, #YAWH scholarship winners Andres Mondragon, FOX ’23, and Ayna Mammedova, CST ’23, brought their projects to life in the midst of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Mondragon’s project directly addressed a key byproduct of the ongoing pandemicgrowing concern among international students about mental health and self-care. His project, a mental health event for students, shed light on this growing problem and empowered students to discuss their feelings and find solutions. Mondragon’s session was part of a “Mental Wellness Day” that he planned together with staff. 

Also during #YAWH week, Ayna Mammedova aimed to widen cultural perspectives with her passion project: leading an International Coffee Hour that highlighted her Turkmen culture, which is not well-known or understood in the U.S.

Below, both students share their experiences with this year’s #YAWH Week and future plans for their passion projects.

Promoting Mental Wellness

Andres Mondragon, Statistical Science and Data Analytics, ’23
Peru

“I had originally thought of developing a project related to microloans and their impacts on financial wellbeing for women in emerging economies like those of my home country, Peru. However, after my experience as an international student during my first semester at Temple, I decided to change the scope of my project to mental health. I wanted to use my voice and privilege to raise awareness of this relevant topic and perhaps clear some misconceptions surrounding mental health, especially in the international student community. 

“I wanted to use my voice and privilege to raise awareness of this relevant topic.”

—Andres Mondragon, ’23

“I had the opportunity to bring my project to life with the help of two members of the International Affairs staff, Immigration Services Specialist Sarah Froberg and International Admissions Counselor Kristina Bolton. We worked on a two-part event for #YouAreWelcomeHere Week 2020. Part one focused on the art of tai chi, and the second was a wellness event, in which I shared my own experiences with mental health challenges. Together, both parts effectively covered resources, coping mechanisms and general information on how to deal with mental health challenges. 

Though this project does not directly relate to my career goals in data science, I felt compelled to pursue it based on my personal journey. After graduating high school before I came to the U.S., I found myself overthinking every single day, and it was a place I didn’t want to be mentally. I remember Leah [Hetzell] and Marena [Ariffin] from International Student Affairs telling me about the resources that are available to international students to address mental health, so now I want to help other international students know that they are not alone. On a larger scale in the future, I hope to make a more significant impact in Peru by developing an app to connect mental health professionals to people in need.”

Spreading Cultural Awareness of Turkmen Culture

Ayna Mammedova, Biochemistry, ’23
Turkmenistan

“Representing my country at Temple was a dream of mine since I heard about the #YAWH Scholarship. Since then I began thinking a lot about how I could share my culture and promote interculturalism on campus. Leah Hetzell (director) and Marena Ariffin (assistant director) from International Student Affairs (ISA) suggested that I organize a coffee hour spotlighting Turkmenistan during #YouAreWelcomeHere Week this year, and I was immediately inspired.

“I reached out to Turkmen students from other U.S. and international institutions asking for help in representing our beautiful culture. With the help of ISA, Abby Krug, CPH ’22 (whose Russian heritage intertwines with Turkmen culture) and my American friend, Regan Loughran Moore, CST ’23, I put together a presentation with several videos from Turkmen students and interactive activities, such as polls, to test the audience’s knowledge.

“After the event, students and staff who had never heard of Turkmenistan told me that they were inspired to visit. Even my Turkmen friends at the event mentioned that they did not know some of the facts about our country and wanted to visit the new landmarks they learned about. After the presentation, we discussed the misrepresentation of underrepresented cultures, such as that of Central Asia in Borat, and how important it is to exchange cultural experiences to end misconceptions.

“We discussed the misrepresentation of underrepresented cultures, such as that of Central Asia in Borat.”

—Ayna Mammedova, ’23

“As for the future, I would love to use my #YAWH platform to help international students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) prepare for their academics and careers by creating a small community where experienced students can share their successes and failures with new students. I hope this will address the challenges and frustrations international students have in adapting to a new education system and in finding internships and getting practical experience in the U.S.”

Watch the recap below to learn more about Andres’ and Ayna’s Passion Projects.

By Rachel V. Jenkins, Marketing Manager, Office of International Affairs
Illustration by Lisa Huang, TYL ’21

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