Research Background

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention (UNCHR, 1951), refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The UNHCR report (UNHCR, 2015) described that an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced to flee their home. In a world where nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day, initiatives to improve their living conditions are more important than ever before. Education has been considered one of the most important actions to promote stability (Winthrop & Matsui, 2013) in fragile settings and empower the refugee community to be better prepared to rebuild their lives (Mayuran, 2017). While education has been recognized as a critical factor to stabilize places in crisis, only one per cent of refugees have access to tertiary education (UNHCR, 2018). Recently, a small number of initiatives have implemented higher education courses and degrees as a humanitarian response (Crea, 2016; Crea & McFarland, 2015; Dahya & Dryden-Peterson, 2017). In so doing, education in displacement and emergency settings has had a multifaceted role where students seek educational opportunities not only for getting a job, but also as a source of hope and contribution to a life with dignity (Akesson, 2015; Alzaroo & Hunt, 2003). In collaboration with InZone from the University of Geneva, the DeBoer lab has been conducting research and developing initiatives addressed to refugee camps. Existing efforts have been focusing in the Azraq refugee camp, in Jordan and the Kakuma refugee camp, in Kenya. In doing so, we intend to inform and report our research practices by offering contextually aligned educational programs to empower students with professional skills to improve their own living conditions themselves.

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Introductory Engineering Course

The Introductory Engineering Course was designed as an opportunity for students continuing to access HE coursework to gain relevant skills. It covers technical concepts in electronics and programming and professional engineering skills, such as teamwork, analytical skills, communication, and engineering thinking. These areas are all framed by the engineering design process and motivated by a local problem that students identify. The overall goal of this course is to prepare students to solve problems using engineering design effectively. Student prototypes are presented at the end of the course and assessed using a holistic rubric. Feasible prototypes are currently being implemented by the students themselves (solar example in Azraq).


International Collaboration

CLCC aims to promote, coordinate, collaborate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through connected learning by sharing and disseminating knowledge, experience and evidence; developing innovative and good practice; and ensuring accountability to students and their communities in order to foster self-reliance.

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Customized Education Technologies

While many DIY kits for STEM learning purpose do a great job to teach how to build robots, drones, and cars, there are no education kits in the market that enable students to build socially meaningful application (ex. System to monitor water needs in a farm OR energy efficiency in a solar powered place). Additionally, students experience barriers to turn their ideas into real prototypes due to hardware fragility and lack of materials to test projects in challenging environments. In light of these challenges, we designed the EngStarter. EngStarter was designed either for schools or application in challenging and remote environments with harsh climates and unreliable power. The modular architecture enables users to easily transpose from little engineering projects to real-world application.

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Location: Azraq Refugee Camp, Jordan

It was developed, and is operated, by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) in conjunction with the Government of Jordan. The camp opened in April 2014 and Azraq hosts the second largest refugee community in Jordan, representing a total of 40,846 people of concern from Syria [11]. Refugees in Azraq have extremely limited access to higher education (HE) and only a few opportunities to enter or to continue interrupted HE pathways.

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Location: Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

Kakuma refugee camp is located in the North-western region of Kenya. The camp was established in 1992 following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”. During that year, large groups of Ethiopian refugees fled their country following the fall of the Ethiopian government. Somalia had also experienced high insecurity and civil strife causing people to flee. The camp is located on the outskirts of Kakuma town, which is the headquarters for Turkana West District of Turkana County. Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement had a population of 185,449 registered refugees and asylum-seekers at the end of January 2018.

Student Researchers



FREITAS, C. C. S., Beyer, Z. J., Yagoub, H. A. A., DeBoer, J. (2018). Fostering Engineering Thinking in a Democratic Learning Space: A Classroom Application Pilot Study in the Azraq Refugee Camp, Jordan. 2018 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Salt Lake City, UT.

FREITAS, C. C. S., Qureshey, J., Beyer, Z. J., DeBoer, J. (2018). Designing an Engineering Classroom in a Democratic Learning Space in the Azraq Refugee Camp. (Poster Presentation) 2018 Illinois Indiana ASEE Section Conference, West Lafayette, IN.