Student Spotlight: Yasmin Nayrouz

Yasmin Nayrouz is a senior at Syracuse University, majoring in public relations at the Newhouse School and English at the College of Arts and Sciences, with a minor in global security studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Inspired by misconceptions surrounding migration and her own parents—who are immigrants from Egypt—she’s working toward a career in advocacy for refugees, immigrants and displaced families.

portrait of Yasmin Nayrouz
Yasmin Nayrouz (Photo by Reed Granger)

Last year, she completed a marketing internship with to use and develop her communication and storytelling skills to assist the nonprofit’s mission of helping individuals impacted by large-scale crises find temporary housing.

She’s also a recipient of the Obama Foundation’s Voyager Scholarship, awarded to students who bridge divides and work to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

What was the moment you decided to pursue a career in advocacy for refugees and immigrants?

After reading memoirs and stories about migration journeys, including refugees’ perspectives, I wanted to advocate for them. My generation grew up watching  Syrian refugees on the news, and as I look back at some of the narratives, it explains why there are misconceptions surrounding migration. I would like to help deconstruct [those] because biased or incomprehensible narratives can have harmful consequences. Personally, I’ve been fascinated by migration because my own parents are immigrants [from Egypt]. This interest became clear to me while completing my application for the Voyager Scholarship, as it encouraged me to consider what I would do with support to pursue public service.

What was the application process like for the Voyager Scholarship, and how did you feel once you received it? 

The Voyager [scholarship] was an intense application process, as it had numerous parts, but not a lot of time before its deadline. It included detailing my public service work, a video component and other questions about my hopes and goals. I remember sitting in a café with my sister when I got the email that I had received it. I was speechless and so grateful, and I remember just hugging my sister in the middle of a café. It was an emotional moment for me because I felt like I had the support to pursue my interests and do so without worrying about a financial burden. Joining this program with other students and mentors who are also passionate about public service is amazing and has given me a lot of hope for our generation.

I also want to highlight that there are two other Voyagers on Syracuse University’s campus: Kaai I’ and Iona Volynets!

3 people stand and smile together under the voyager scholarship sign
Voyager Scholarship recipients Kaai I’ (left), Yasmin Nayrouz (center) and Iona Volynets at the Democracy Forum in Chicago in November 2023. (Photo courtesy of Yasmin Nayrouz)

You mentioned how the scholarship includes a summer voyage. Can you explain what that is and how you plan to use it? 

A summer voyage means I will be working on a project related to my public service interests, which can be done anywhere, and this scholarship will fund the expenses for it. I completed my summer voyage this past summer where I interned with an immigration law firm in Florence, Italy through the SU abroad program doing communications work for the firm.

You worked with Newhouse assistant professor Nausheen Husain on a data journalism project on the Muslim travel ban. What was that like?

a person stands and smiles in front of St. Paul's Cathedral in London
Yasmin Nayrouz in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during her study abroad semester. (Photo courtesy of Yasmin Nayrouz)

For this project, two other students and I helped clean, sort and analyze the data which Professor Husain and journalist Rowaida Abdelaziz collected. We determined findings from the data that supported the story’s demonstration of the impact of the travel ban and then created data visualizations that are included in the story. [It] was really eye-opening for me because it humanized the impact of the travel ban but it was based on data. After working on this project, I knew I had an interest in advocating for immigrants and refugees because their stories are often untold or misrepresented, which can have severe consequences in policies or public attitudes.

You studied abroad at the Syracuse University center in London. What did you do there to help expand your horizons around your advocacy work? 

I took a class called Multicultural London in which I learned about the United Kingdom’s history and current politics related to migration. We looked at immigrants who fled from religious persecution, those who arrived for economic opportunities and asylum seekers. London was an ideal location to learn about these issues because it is a major topic here, as migration was a significant factor behind Brexit. Moreover, I volunteered at Migrateful Cookery School, which is a charity in London whose mission is to empower refugees and migrants and support their integration by helping them run cooking classes to teach locals. 

a person holds a microphone and speaks in the front of a room
Yasmin Nayrouz speaking at an Assembly meeting in her role as executive vice president. (Photo courtesy of Yasmin Nayrouz)

Back in Syracuse, how are you involved on campus?

One of my main involvements on campus is the Student Association, where I am the executive vice president. Before that role, I was the vice president of university affairs. Through that, I planned Mental Health Awareness Weeks, advocated for Wellness Days and implemented trolleys to take students to grocery stores. Additionally, I’m an undergraduate representative on the University Senate. I’m also involved in the Perception Literary Magazine and was an FYS Peer Mentor last year for three different classes. Over summer 2022, I began volunteering with CNY InterFaith Works to help develop programs and other relevant resources for refugees and the organization.

This is an updated profile about Yasmin Nayrouz

Naomi Infeld is a sophomore in the magazine, news and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School and the international relations program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Madelyn Geyer, content manager at the Newhouse School, contributed to this article.