Two recent Emory graduates selected for prestigious Luce Scholars Program

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Feb. 24, 2021

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Emory College alumni Yaza Sarieh and Zach Denton have been named to the 2021-2022 class of Luce Scholars. The prestigious fellowship provides the opportunity for immersive work in Asia

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Two recent Emory College alumni who are working to improve the lives of migrants and refugees have been named to the 2021–22 class of Luce Scholars.

The prestigious fellowship will provide Zach Denton 18C and Yaza Sarieh 20C the opportunity for immersive work in Asia, work that will broaden their understanding of migrant experiences in education and the system of refugee resettlement and aid, respectively.

This marks the first time Emory has had two winners in a single round of the program, which is awarded annually to no more than 18 graduating seniors, graduate students and young professionals in the U.S. They join 11 previous Emory winners of the highly competitive fellowship.

“The Luce Scholars program offers a truly unique opportunity for cultural immersion in Asia, and we are thrilled to have two Emory alumni recognized in this year’s competition,” says Megan Friddle, director of the College’s National Scholarships and Fellowships Program.

“Both Yaza and Zach have shown a clear commitment to improving the lives of others, in the Emory community and throughout the world; they each bring cultural humility, exceptional leadership skills and a strong commitment to refugee resettlement and migrant advocacy,” Friddle adds. “The Luce Program — and the unique placement process with the Asia Foundation — will connect them to professional opportunities where they can learn about these issues in the context of Asia and contribute meaningfully to their host communities.”

Created by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974, the appointment includes stipends, language training and individualized professional placement in several Asian countries each year. The program is intended for young leaders with limited experience in Asia to develop a deeper understanding of the region.

Zach Denton: Education for migrant communities

Denton has been interested in assuring education for migrant communities since he was in high school in Atlanta, working with adults seeking to take the GED test.

As an undergraduate Ely R. Callaway Scholar, he turned that interest in education into a self-directed interdisciplinary program studying how social inequity and language policy impact education.

The academic curiosity was personal. Denton was unable to speak as a child and remained behind his peers even as his skills improved with intense physical, speech and occupational therapy.

“In my case, the system conspired with me,” Denton says. “That made me sensitive to the built-in barriers to communication and education and the potential for positive, compassionate and formative intervention.”

After graduating in 2018 with a degree in sociology and linguistics/Spanish, he spent a year teaching English in Madrid with the Fulbright program.

With the help of Emory’s Charles Elias Shepard Scholarship for Graduate Study, he completed a master’s degree in comparative education research last year at the University of Cambridge. His thesis: examining the educational experiences of Moroccan immigrants in Spain.

In between his Fulbright and graduate school, he lived in Lumpkin, Georgia, working full-time to pilot a “hospitality house” to aid immigrants released from the nearby Stewart Detention Center. That program has continued and expanded since he left.

“I really owe Emory for shaping how I think about my career path, by being able to study the intersection of migration and education and examine how we can undo the punitive systems and create systems that are more equitable,” says Denton, who now works in the Dominican Republic with Yspaniola, a non-profit organization that provides educational resources and advocacy for several generations of Haitian migrants.

“I’m incredibly excited to continue that work in a new space,” he adds.

Yaza Sarieh: Refugees and resettlement

Sarieh’s journey also began in high school, when she traveled from Nashville to refugee camps in Jordan and realized the good fortune of her grandfather, who escaped to similar camps as a refugee of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, before her parents immigrated to the United States.

Sarieh started her Emory experience at Oxford College and graduated in May from Emory College with a degree in history and Arabic. She focused her academic, professional and service activities on studying the conflicts that prompt people to flee their homelands and analyzing the policies used to provide humanitarian aid and resettlement.

“The people at Emory motivate students to try for things that may seem unattainable but will really broaden your experience,” she says.

Among Sarieh’s accomplishments were internships with The Carter Center and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), both designed to offer a more sophisticated examination of resource distribution for refugee populations. 

As part of The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution program, Sarieh conducted geospatial analysis of conflict data and, drawing from her research in English and Arabic, wrote briefs updating other staffers on the Syrian conflict.

At the IRC, she worked in intensive case management, helping to develop individualized service plans for clients and connecting them with necessary health care and social services resources to ease their transition.

Sarieh also served as co-director of Behind the Glass, the campus organization dedicated to immigration issues that includes among its initiatives service trips to the “hospitality house” that Denton developed.

When the pandemic canceled a planned Peace Corps position in Morocco, Sarieh extended her internship with Georgia Organics where, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, she now heads a mapping project to identify connections between health disparities and access to nutritional food.

“My idea has been to do the research and work on the ground level, so I can present that understanding as policy at some point in the future,” says Sarieh, who expects to defer graduate school studies in development for the Luce program starting in August. “I’m eager for the opportunity to learn how to incorporate the Asian region into that goal.”