This spring's Humecathon brought together students from across Cornell Human Ecology (CHE) and Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences to come up with novel solutions to improve refugee wellbeing.
Students on the Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Council (DUAC) launched the Humecathon in 2019 with the understanding that some problems are just too big for experts from any one discipline to solve. The hackathon-style sprint gives students from across the College’s departments the chance to leverage their individual knowledge and come up with multifaceted solutions to a pressing social issue.
Rebecca Weiss ’23, a human development major and member of DUAC, organized this year’s event. She participated in the 2019 Humecathon when she was a first-year student.
Weiss said that the group first chose the theme when they were planning the Humecathon for last spring, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. While that event was postponed, the issue of refugee wellbeing remains urgent, especially since the earthquake in Turkey in February.
“It’s a problem that will take multiple perspectives to solve,” she said.
Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of Human Ecology, kicked off the challenge on April 27, giving the students just three days to come up with a solution and submit a five-minute video presentation.
“The Humecathon is one of my favorite events of the year,” Dunifon told the students. “It’s really fun to see what the teams come up with.”
Ultimately, eight students across three teams completed the challenge. The panel of judges included Dunifon; Lauren Korfine, interim senior associate director of undergraduate studies and a lecturer in psychology; Eve DeRosa, Mibs Martin Follett Professor in Human Ecology and dean of faculty; Nancy Wells, senior associate dean for research and graduate education; and Anthony Burrow, Ferris Family Associate Professor of Life Course Studies.
First place in the 2023 Humecathon went to the team of Stephy Chen ’25, government and information science; Alice Yu ’23, global and public health science; Sarah Yum ’25, applied economics and management; and Aaron Zhu ’26, economics and information science.
They proposed Bridge, “a nonprofit to bridge beyond the language barriers to generate opportunities for refugees,” according to Yum. The organization would help refugees in the U.S. obtain authorization to work legally and then connect them with employment with support from a team of specialists and a network of partner companies. Their proposal also included plans for ongoing assessment.
“We love that you proposed inventing a whole new nonprofit that was focused on the specific topic of employment among refugees,” Dunifon told the team. “We also like that you had a multipronged approach, from matching refugees to job opportunities, the legal issues around their right to work, and that you embedded getting feedback from the refugees in real time.”
Dunifon added that the judges were impressed by the presentation itself, in which the team members set up the problem, explained their solution and walked viewers through their plan step by step, with smooth transitions from each presenter.
Jaida Anekwe ’25, a human development major, and Yuxin Zou ’26, a human biology, health and society, came in second. Their presentation, “Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Solution,” focused on the mental health of Syrian refugees. It included a targeted marketing campaign specific to the Syrian population and plans to overcome language barriers in healthcare access and to improve shelter housing, as well as qualitative and quantitative monitoring.
Dunifon praised their innovative and creative ideas, including using artificial intelligence to address the language barrier, culturally sensitive mental health outreach and recycled shipping containers for housing.
Minjae Eum ’26, a human biology, health and society major, and Gabrielle Finora ’24, a nutritional sciences major, received third place for their presentation, “Refugee Crisis Management: Providing Support to Improve Food Insecurity During Resettlement.” Their recommendations focused on improving the availability of food, economic and physical access and appropriate food utilization, including its cultural significance. They also noted the importance of continuity, stability and community support.
In presenting their award, Dunifon said the judges liked how Eum and Finora focused on a specific topic and examined several aspects of it, including issues of economics, physical access to food and mental health. They also liked that Eum and Finora paid attention to their proposal’s feasibility and long-term maintenance.
“My goal for the Humecathon is to give students a chance to tackle a topic that is very pervasive in our society and to think about it from a human ecology lens,” Dunifon said. “So, not just from one narrow perspective, but thinking about all the different components that we need to bring together to address these topics.”