LOCAL NEWS

University of Utah professor helps refugees discover wonders of science

Apr 9, 2024, 7:05 PM | Updated: Apr 10, 2024, 6:49 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A professor at the University of Utah is putting the focus of his research on helping refugees get involved in science.

That’s because he knows what it’s like to start over.

The professor’s study of the universe is building connections here at home.

The big event Tuesday was a new $1.1 million array of cosmic ray detectors on the roof of the Refugee Services building in Salt Lake City.

crews install cosmic array

Crews install a $1.1 million cosmic array. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

You can tell that what makes Dr. Tino Nyawelo proud are the students behind it.

You can build a window into some of the building blocks of the universe. Parts are being lifted and assembled to detect cosmic rays.

Nyawelo said these young minds are what matter here.

“These are some of the most amazing, talented students,” Nyawelo said.

Dr Tino Nyawelo

Dr. Tino Nyawelo said his refugee students are amazing and talented. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

It is the young people helping him with those high-energy particles arriving from deep space. He understands them in a way other professors might not.

“In 2007 I felt at home here because Utah is a very welcoming place for refugees,” Nyawelo said. We have about 65,000 refugees. I met many, many of my classmates here.”

Restaurant owner starting culinary school for refugees

He fled his home in Sudan as a graduate student and eventually went to the University of Utah.

“Tino is really involved in the community and wants all the youth, especially refugee youths, to do well,” Reman Adhikari said.

Adhikari’s mother came from Bhutan by way of Nepal.

Nyawelo wanted to help refugee students get involved in science, knowing they were all coming from different education levels and backgrounds. He started about five years ago with an after-school program.

“I mean, some of them were infants when they came to the United States. Some of them were in elementary school,” Sarah Braden said.

Dr. Sarah Braden from Utah State University brought her experience with science and language education to the refugee program. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

Nyawelo partnered up with Braden, from Utah State University, bringing her background of science and language education.

Braden said, “My job was to figure out, OK, ‘How do we create a really positive science learning environment?’”

It seems to be working.

BYU Student Gives Voice To Refugees, One Story At A Time

Student Firdaus Voukari said, “Well, I think he’s, like, very relatable and does help us with connections.”

The result is huge.

Nyawelo said, “When you see them succeed, that is something that you can’t describe.”

The University of Utah professor plans to expand his program to engage more refugees in science by taking it to other high schools, to all kinds of students.

We could eventually see cosmic sensor arrays, on top of schools around the state.

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University of Utah professor helps refugees discover wonders of science