Mitra Naseh traffics in hope.
The native of Iran earned an undergraduate degree in computer science engineering, but early exposure to the plight of Afghan refugees eventually forced a twist of fate.
From age 5, when she quizzically witnessed adults treat the misplaced with disdain, and later when as a teenager she taught math to street children, Naseh felt a call to fight for those facing discrimination and suffering deprivation.
Today a Ph.D. student in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, she landed in Miami with a master’s degree in urban planning and development from an Iranian university and a resume that included working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That post gave her a view into situations she remembers as terribly sad and sometimes inhumane, even as she saw flashes of resilience.
Naseh currently conducts research that has her interviewing Syrian refugees living in Jordan, a feat made possible after she connected with an FIU alumna working overseas. The data-gathering conversations—conducted via Skype, as a U.S travel ban that would compromise her return to Miami has precluded her going abroad—delve into issues of poverty and refugee welfare.
Under the guidance of Professor Miriam Potocky, Naseh has undertaken several activities that put her squarely on a path to serve as an expert voice for the population she studies. These include curating an exhibit on refugee shelters at the Coral Gables Museum (pictured), researching and co-authoring the second edition of Potocky’s ground-breaking “Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants” (Columbia University Press) and developing a mobile app aimed at those in greatest need (SmartsAid.com). With as many as 80 percent of adult refugees estimated to own cell phones—often their sole possession and only link to home or other scattered family members, Naseh explains—an app that connects new arrivals to resources in real time has gained interest and even earned Naseh and her collaborators a spot in the competitive StartUP FIU innovation accelerator.
With the world currently experiencing the highest levels of human displacement in history, Naseh looks toward a career that will allow her to help improve the future for millions. “Hope is the key,” she says of the unwanted. “They survived war. They survived persecution. They will survive the rest. Just give them a little bit of hope.”