by Lilly Yangchen

Hamilton College has built a strong affiliation with the refugee community in Utica over a long period of time. The relationship is continuously flourishing today with more students showing enthusiasm to help and learn from the refugees. Alex Hollister ’17 shares an inspiring journey about his involvement with the refugee population that started from a simple tutoring program through Project Shine. “I wanted to do something different,” he recalls.

Although he was introduced into the refugee community only about a year ago, Hollister has come a long way since then building a career out of his passion to helping the refugees. As a Levitt Center Research Fellow, he spent his entire summer last year collaborating with Professor of Economics, Paul Hagstrom and two other students, Hersheena Rajaram ’19 and Patrick McConnell ’19 on a 2-year long research project that focused on Refugee Youth Migration from Utica. They developed a comprehensive survey to examine the factors that affected the refugees to either stay in Utica or leave for educational or other opportunities after settling in Utica. He adds, “we are also integrating aspects of financial literacy to see if they have a greater concept of financial institutions in United States after staying here for a while.” The survey would go out this summer after it has been refined and tested, and they will follow up with the results from the data collected accordingly.

The research has really allowed Hollister to establish a special attachment to the refugee community as he felt he “had to help them in some way” which resulted from working closely with them for ten weeks. He also built ties with organizations like MUCC and On Point for College through the research. Following the summer research, he started working with Professor Hagstrom on an independent study.

With the rich experiences Hollister has gathered over the year, he describes the relationship between the Hamilton community and the refugee community in Utica as a “two way street”. There is so much to learn from each other and it enhances rich community diversity.

He shares his concern regarding the Refugee ban by the new administration. He says that the refugees “have a tremendous effect on the American economy” and there is a growing need to realize their importance in our communities today. Sharing his favorite experience with the refugees, Hollister talks about the World Refugee Day celebration in Utica that he attended last summer. He was fascinated by the diverse cultures that the different refugee groups presented, and thus emphasizes the importance of this diversity in terms of American history. After graduating from Hamilton with an Economics major, Hollister will be working with the refugee youth community through Teach For America in New Haven, Connecticut for the next two years. We wish him all the best of luck!


Photo courtesy of Lilly Yangchen