Lipscomb students invest in local refugee students through partnership with Nashville International Center for Empowerment

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At Lipscomb, service is the cornerstone of the university and is often integrated into the daily student experience. Therefore, since fall 2015, Lipscomb University’s environmental biology class has spent time investing in local refugee students at McMurray Middle School.

Throughout a partnership with the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE), a community-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering refugees, as well as Nashville After Zone Alliance and McMurray Middle School, Lipscomb students from within the freshman-level SALT course have volunteered in the CRAZE after-school program and have taught environmental biology lessons to the refugee middle school students within the program.

SALT, which stands for Serving and Learning Together, is an academic service-learning program at Lipscomb that provides students the chance to enhance academic understanding by applying knowledge and skills in service projects that benefit the community. 

Emily Stutzman, academic director for Lipscomb’s Institute for Sustainable Practice, helped initiate the partnership with the CRAZE after-school program nearly two years ago and says although students within the course are required to spend time at McMurray and create interactive lessons for the middle school students, their initial nervousness is transformed into confidence once they make a few visits.

“It has been important to me to watch students who don’t necessarily shine in the classroom just find their calling in the after-school program,” said Stutzman. “Just seeing the enthusiasm our students bring to McMurray and seeing the ways our students have creatively planned their lessons -- envisioning what they want these middle school students to learn – has inspired me to continually improve my own teaching.”

CRAZE_SideBrady Bates, a senior studio art major and missions minor from Nashville, is one of these students, Stutzman explained.  

After taking the environmental biology class in fall 2015, Bates became an intern with NICE and has used his volunteer time to fulfill his mission minor at Lipscomb.

“Through this SALT opportunity, God has opened my eyes and heart to a wonderful cross-cultural opportunity that was in my backyard,” said Bates. “There are countless refugees coming to the states every year and a significant number in Nashville alone. Each of these families and children have their own stories of adversity leading up to where they are now and need people to welcome and love them as Christ would. I felt a calling to this opportunity and decided to invest the past four semesters into these children.

“As a Christian community in Nashville we have to step up and take care of those that are foreign and local,” Bates continued. “Through this experience I discovered the value of time and investment. One of the greatest ways we can serve others and successfully change lives is by simply being present and giving up our time to be in the moment and pour into their lives.”

Giuliano Scarsi, an adjunct in the Institute for Sustainable Practice at Lipscomb, has been teaching the course for the past two semesters and says that because there are multiple language barriers between the Lipscomb and McMurray students, the Lipscomb students must find alternative ways of teaching their lessons through interactive art projects and other creative means.

“Each day our students spend at McMurray, they are learning more and more what a refugee is and what it means to be a refugee,” said Scarsi. “And each week, the McMurray students are given one-on-one opportunities to practice speaking English. Our Lipscomb students do a great job of helping them learn about the environment in creative ways.”

Emily Bernasconi (’14) serves as the Youth Programs Manager for NICE and is the former Youth Education Specialist and site coordinator for the CRAZE program, and says the partnership with Lipscomb has greatly benefited the after-students at McMurray.

“I am grateful for this partnership as the Environmental Biology class helps us welcome these New Americans to their new home and environment,” said Bernasconi. “I have seen students build relationships with Lipscomb students that have inspired them in their studies and hopes for the future. We have had Lipscomb students stay with CRAZE past their semester requirement and stay for multiple semesters, and they have become trusted role models to our CRAZE students.

Jenny Rish, the current youth program coordinator for the CRAZE program at McMurray, has worked with Lipscomb’s environmental biology class this semester and says she feels the students are truly gaining and retaining knowledge the Lipscomb students have brought to the afterschool program.

“Some of the best aspect from this partnership is providing the students with different styles of teaching the Lipscomb students have provided,” said Rish. “The Lipscomb students bring information about various topics to the students as well as hands on activities. The kids will randomly bring up things they have learned and are always excited to see the biology group come in for the day. Also, the extra help during homework and academic time is always beneficial for our students academically.

“The relationships the students have built with the Lipscomb students are amazing. I think both the students and Lipscomb benefit from these relationships.”

On Monday, April 17, 16 students from the environmental biology class celebrated these relationships and a successful year with the middle school students by exploring the Nashville Zoo together.

“Even in the pouring rain, you could tell how strong the relationships have become between our Lipscomb students and the middle school students,” said Stutzman. “I just watched one NICE student ask a Lipscomb student to walk with her to the restroom. That little girl would barely speak to the Lipscomb students at the beginning of the school year, and now she has an older friend to ask by name to help her.”

To learn more about the environmental biology SALT course, housed in the Institute of Sustainable Practice, visit:

About NICE:

Originally established as the Sudanese Community & Women’s Services Center, the Nashville International Center for Empowerment was renamed in spring of 2010, a name which represents the service it provides and the community it serves. Since its founding, NICE has served people from more than 72 different nations currently living in Middle Tennessee, with most of its clients being of Asian, African and Middle Eastern decent. NICE aims to increase its clients’ abilities to effectively read, write and speak English, facilitating long-term independence and stability by leading to sustainable employment and self-sufficiency for adults and ongoing academic achievement for children, thereby addressing the underlying issues contributing to poverty in the Nashville community.

About NAZA

NAZA is a nationally-recognized system of free, high-quality afterschool programs that provide academic support and new creative outlets for Metro Nashville Public Schools’ middle school students (grades five to eight) at safe and convenient locations, both at school and in the community. NAZA reaches middle school students who cannot access other afterschool programs due to cost or transportation issues. The system is organized around five geographic zones that encompass Davidson County.

Through NAZA’s system of coordinated providers, students are given structure in an open and safe environment that provides encouragement, a sense of accomplishment, and access to new and exciting opportunities.