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Faculty Spotlight: Sharon Segrest, Management Professor, Helps Refugees from War-Torn Countries Assimilate

By Keith Morelli

Sharon Segrest

TAMPA (August 14, 2020) -- When Sharon Segrest isn’t teaching Muma College of Business students the finer points of management or earning awards for her research, she helps refugees from the Middle East and Africa assimilate into cultures of whatever country that welcomes them, land well-paying jobs and live without the threat of suicide bombs and IEDs.

“Witnessing the plight of refugees in Syria – one of the worst ongoing humanitarian crises on the planet – I was happy to have the opportunity to contribute in any way possible,” she said, “to help improve the employment opportunities for displaced persons and others in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

She found her focus with an organization based in Jordan that help educate, train and prepare refugees for new lives.

“I’ve been on the board since the beginning with ReBootKamp,” she said. “Before RBK, I was helping with an earlier non-governmental organization that was designed to help Syrian refugees in Jordan by making their lives better by providing photography equipment and running shoes to help develop their hobbies.

“One of my former students,” she said, “helped develop the website for that NGO.”

ReBootKamp is a nonprofit established in 2014 and based in Jordan. Refugees with strong technical skills receive the tools they need to function as English-speaking, full-stack engineers with market-ready technical skills, strong soft skills and deep problem-solving abilities.

The nonprofit now has locations in Jordan, Palestine and Tunisia.

“RBK strives to have 50 percent of each cohort be comprised of women,” Segrest said, “which is a huge accomplishment in the area.”

Segrest is a professor in the School of Information Systems and Management, with an office in St. Petersburg, where she teaches courses related to developing leadership skills, international management and organizational behavior analysis. She has been with USF since 2007, coming from California State University-Fullerton. She has won awards for her research and teaching.

Her affiliation with ReBootKamp dates back to 2014, she said.

“The founder of RBK, Hugh Bosely, realized that instead of giving people fish, it would be better to teach them to fish,” she said. “In other words, providing refugees with technology training to get better jobs seemed the best route. From the beginning, I have served on the board, advising on all types of issues such as developing an employee handbook, soft-skills training, etc.

“It was an honor to have the opportunity to volunteer to be on the board of RBK since its inception.”

Refugees or displaced persons are people forced to leave their countries due to violence, persecution and/or deprivation. They differ from immigrants, who voluntarily choose to move to another country.

Statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency are staggering, Segrest wrote in a research paper on the topic. Estimates put the number of refugees worldwide at 21.3 million. More than 50 percent of refugees come from three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria, with the number of Syrian refugees estimated at just under 5 million.

The best way to assimilate refugees into host countries is to give them valuable skills with which they can land well-paying jobs, earn a living and feel more at home in a strange land.

Coding boot camps have emerged as the demand for software developers has exploded, Segrest said. Distinct from four-year university degrees, coding boot camps are a type of vocational training program utilizing accelerated schedules, experiential learning and immersive educational programs.

“Besides technical training, soft-skills training is critical to success in the business world,” she said. Education in mindfulness, emotional intelligence, growth mindset and creativity are critical to success.

The beneficiaries of the training are multi-national corporations.

“Having these well-trained graduates, who are also trained in cultural differences and soft skills, can be a boon to these companies needing local talent, as well as local businesses,” Segrest said. “If and when things normalize in Syria, these graduates can return to Syria and be future leaders there.

“In some cases, students from remote villages with conservative, religious families have never interacted with persons of the opposite sex who were not family members until this program,” she said. “Here, students from very different backgrounds grow to care for each other when they have historically been raised to have strong prejudices against members of other groups. Cross-group friendships help reduce prejudice and reduce barriers to empathy.

“Education,” she said, “is the answer to improving the situation in the Middle East.”