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Justice for Migrants: Bridging Immigrant Advocates & Champions for Justice Through Education

We train immigrant advocates to assist and accompany migrants through VIISTA, a comprehensive legal education.

Photo of Michele Pistone
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What do you do with these problems?

An unrepresented 6 year old Spanish-speaking Honduran girl who is expected to explain – by herself - to an immigration judge why she fled her home country and can’t safely return.

A single mother who is afraid to apply for needed public benefits for her US citizen children because she has heard that it may jeopardize her ability to gain US citizenship.

Or the many immigrant families that are deterred from even applying for immigration benefits by high application fees because they don’t realize that fee waivers may be available.

There simply are not enough lawyers– and there will never be enough lawyers – to help all the immigrants that need help.

The project we are working on is designed to address these problems – to provide a way to help.  VIISTA is an online certificate program designed to train all the passionate immigrant allies around the country who want to help immigrants. The curriculum is holistic – we teach about immigration from various perspectives and include all the topics needed to become effective immigrant advocates – such as interviewing, how to work with an interpreter, how to work with migrant children, factors that push people to migrate, providing trauma-informed care, trial advocacy  – and, of course, immigration law.  I am teaching that law in the context of what graduates will do on the job.  We designed the VIISTA 5-stage advocacy process. For many weeks, students learn the law as they actively build persuasive legal cases.  

For 22 years, I have been teaching law students to represent immigrants. For about half that time, I have been researching online education.  Now, I am directing my teaching to a new cohort of students.  I know the specific tasks that advocates need to know.  And I know how to teach it for transfer.  And I am working with a team of experts -- lawyers, retired judges, immigrant serving organizations -- so that what the students learn aligns with the activities that graduates will do on the job. 

And, I am particularly excited about it because the students in the pilot have given us good feedback – which we are using now to iterate and improve the program.  Overall, they are really enjoying VIISTA so far.

Now, with the resources we currently have, once the students get accredited, they may be able to help a few hundred immigrants each year.

But, with additional resources, we can scale this program to educate many, many more new students each semester.

My goal is to graduate 10,000 Immigrant Advocates over the next 10 years. And, it is realistic -- with additional funding.  Then, if every one of those new immigrant advocate helped just 1 immigrant family each month, they would help 660,000 immigrant families over 10 years.

And, the impact could be even greater than that because this program could be a model for using non-lawyers to provide legal services in other areas of law as well, like housing, and veteran’s affairs. Just like the medical field provided space for nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. Those career paths did not exist until about 50 years ago.  They were developed – by universities - in response to a real need in the community for medical assistance.  Duke University started the first physician’s assistance program in 1965 and the University of Colorado started to train nurse practitioners the same year.  Now, there are more than 270,000 nurse practitioners and we could not envision a health care system functioning without them.  

We have the same need in the legal field.  Access to justice is a problem in many areas of law, so this could go beyond immigration.  

But, immigration is my field.  So, that’s where I started.  And, we are fortunate because we already a legal framework establishing authority in place now.  Under current regulations, non-lawyers can stand with immigrants in proceedings before both the Department of Homeland Security and immigration courts.  

And we are also fortunate, because there are thousands for passionate immigrant allies today eager to help.  

With online education we can reach all the immigrant allies - far and wide – in rural communities, suburbs, and cities around the country with the energy and passion to help. 

We hope you will help us achieve this vision.  Together, we have the ability to create lasting change.  

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

PROBLEM: Unlike criminal proceedings in which defendants have constitutional rights to representation, in the US, migrants are not entitled to court appointed lawyers. Six out of 10 migrants confront the immigration system without a lawyer, even children. The consequences are substantial: the Vera Institute found that migrants are 12 times more likely to obtain available relief when they have an advocate. Lack of advocacy disrupts in life-altering ways. With each deportation order, families are separated, employers lose employees, and communities lose valued neighbors and friends. The migrant-serving community knows we need more advocates. Most look to lawyers for the solution. However, they are out of reach for poor migrants. The problem requires an innovative approach. VIISTA represents a bold new solution. SOLUTION: VIISTA (Villanova University Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates) will be the first university-based online certificate program to train non-lawyers. Designed by an interdisciplinary team of leading faculty, lawyers, and NGOs, VIISTA will revolutionize education about the law. We are educating a category of legal advocates (akin to physician’s assistants in health care) who, under existing regulations, graduates will be eligible to apply to become Department of Justice “accredited representatives,” non-lawyers authorized to provide low-cost representation. VIISTA’s online, modular design makes it scalable and affordable.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

VIISTA is an online educational program so students from across the US can enroll. The curriculum is interdisciplinary. It will teach migration and how to work effectively with migrants in a holistic way. The curriculum is modular and designed to be repackaged for several different audiences. The pilot curriculum will start with a focus on US immigration law. The legal aspects of the curriculum can later to adopted to educate community legal workers around the world about immigration.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Many people in communities across the US and around the world are passionate about helping migrants, but lack the knowledge and skills needed to offer support. VIISTA offers a scalable way to rapidly expand the capacity of immigrant communities to advocate and organize for change. Many migrant communities are unaware of their legal rights. Immigrant advocates will gain the knowledge needed to empower migrant communities to assert their rights.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Freedom from persecution is a fundamental human right. Many migrants flee conditions of violence. Immigrants' joy, hope, and dignity is restored when they have access to justice, in three ways, by (1) educating immigrant communities about immigration law and policy builds legal capacity and restores hope and dignity to migrants who otherwise confront the immigration system uneducated about heir rights; (2) expanding pipeline of qualified immigrant advocates to provide access to justice to migrants families who otherwise would confront the immigration enforcement system without an advocate; and (3) promoting the expansion of a new employment category within the legal services sector for which immigrants are uniquely qualified, thereby increasing their economic opportunities and civic engagement. The immigrant advocate career path created by VIISTA will be particularly attractive to first generation students and immigrant-origin adults who currently lack a postsecondary credential.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

My aim is to launch the VIISTA program in Fall 2020. Now, there are 2000 accredited representatives (AR) in the US. By the end of 2024, I hope to teach and graduate an additional 2000 ARs. Immigrant communities need advocates who understand immigration from a holistic perspective, push and pull factors, cultural sensitivity, trauma-informed care, VIISTA's curriculum is interdisciplinary and holistic. I also plan to use our network to create a list of priority areas in the US with the most need for immigrant advocates and market to recruit students from there. Through that efforts, VIISTA will expand the pipeline for trained advocates in communities with intense need and limited access to lawyers. The curriculum is designed to teach the knowledge and skills needed on the job. Our pilot is providing a lot of feedback and insights into how to integrate the curriculum to respond to student needs. Assignments also get students into the community to gather feedback on local needs.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Access to justice is one of the biggest challenges that immigrant families face. Having an advocate makes a huge difference in whether an immigrant can remain in the US or is deported and separated from his/her family. As an immigration lawyer, I saw this problem every time I walked into an immigration court. I am driven to address it and believe that through scalable online technologies, together with existing regulations that allow non-lawyers to provide legal services to immigrants, a viable solution is attainable. I envision a future in which every immigrant confronting the immigration system has an advocate.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Immigrant advocates are desperately needed throughout the country, now more than ever before. From remote parish jails in Louisiana, to Mississippi (to respond to recent worksite raids), to rural Pennsylvania, in cities, in suburbs and throughout rural America, immigrant families are being disrupted every day and need advocates to help them navigate a complicated, overwhelming bureaucracy. VIISTA's online educational platform is accessible to students nationwide - so that our graduates are equipped to respond to needs in their local communities. Our curriculum is designed with input from community groups across the country so that we teach the knowledge and skills immigrant families and communities need. For ex. recent changes in laws about immigrant access to public benefits are raising fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities. In response to the rule changes, we now plan to add learning activities about public benefits and aim to educate social workers, healthcare workers.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Connection to the community has driven this idea from its inception. I was fortunate to receive seed funding from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, which funded meetings with community stakeholders from across the country and included representatives from potential employers, immigrant advocacy organizations, legal service organizations, lawyers, prospective students, accredited representatives and a retired immigration judge who also served as former Chair of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Together, we generated ideas. The curriculum design process has involved the community at every stage. Indeed, the curriculum is being designed and build in an innovative way: using a team of design faculty, each specializes in a different area and brings unique perspectives. The faculty designers come from law, history, public administration, theology, social work, and cultural studies. The design faculty collectively have more than 200 yrs in immigration experience.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We are blessed with many partners and stakeholders, all of whom are helping to move project forward. Five immigrant serving organizations are partnering in curriculum design and build: Catholic Relief Services Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Tahirih Justice Center Immigrant Justice Corps HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) PA Experts from Volta Learning are assisting with curriculum design and assessment Professors from various disciplines are helping to build robust, holistic curriculum Professor from National Association of Trial Advocacy and retired immigration judge and Chair of the Board of Immigration Appeals are designing trial advocacy curriculum Retired immigration judges are providing feedback on curriculum Communications students at Cabrini College are working on a communications plan Many immigrant serving organizations offered to help with communications and spreading the word Immigrant Advocates Network Nat'l Partnership for New Americans UNHCR PIRC

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates (VIISTA), a certificate program offered by Villanova University, a Catholic and Augustinian University and a 501(c)(3).

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Villanova is nationally-recognized top 50 research university. Immigration is central to Villanova’s mission. Villanova’s administration embraces VIISTA and sees it as responding to Pope Francis’s 2018 call on Catholic universities to provide more education, research and service to migrant and refugee communities. Service is central to Villanova’s mission and VIISTA provides a way to use our core business – education – in service to both its students and the immigrants its students will serve. The structure is ideal for VIISTA because: (1) as an institution of higher learning, the University has in-house experience in online education, pedagogy, curriculum development, video production, and student enrollment and management; (2) Villanova branding, as a top 50 national research university, adds name recognition and credibility to VIISTA; (3) Villanova’s network, including 125,000 alumni and many media relations. All of this support to VIISTA bears no monetary cost to the program.

Website URL:

immigrantadvocate.villanova.edu

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country

USA

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Villanova, PA

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. How to build a vibrant, cohesive, online community? Prospective & pilot students want to study in community, share resources, post questions to mentors, and form study groups, and to feel part of a community of like-minded advocates for immigrant justice. 2. How to scale the educational program without losing its teaching effectiveness? The need for advocates is huge, but immigrant allies need education so they can meaningfully help. At scale, VIISTA is a bridge that links two growing needs. 3. How best to evaluate the impact of the program, set goals, develop benchmarks & collect data?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Community research with prospective students and the communities they will serve (immigrant clients and employers) helped to refine the program's desirability: 

NEEDS OF PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS: •“I want to understand how the immigration bureaucracy works” •“I hate what I am seeing happen in my country. I can’t just stand by and watch. I need to take action.” •“I feel defeated, teach me so I can be empowered.” •“I am privileged because I have status; help me use that position to find a way to help my community.” •“Teach me so I can be helpful.” •“I want to find a community of like-minded immigrant supporters.” •“I know 5-6 other people who would sign up today, and they each know others.” 

NEEDS OF EMPLOYERS/IMMIGRANT-SERVING ORGANIZATIONS: •“I am overwhelmed. I need someone who can help with our cases.” •“We need someone who understands immigrants to conduct intake interviews in our office.” •“We need a paralegal who can step in and start adding value.” •“I don’t have time to train someone, I need to make a hire of someone who has a general understanding of immigration law.” 

NEEDS OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES: •“Help me navigate a complicated bureaucracy” •“This is the most important thing I have ever done in my life, please stand by me” •“Help me protect my family.” •“Help me understand my rights.” •“I am afraid and all alone, stand with me.” •“I am confused and intimidated, please help me understand what is happening.”

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funding would make a huge, immediate, impact on our ability to scale, nationally and eventually internationally. Consultants ($30K) can help identify edtech platform and tools (including data collection). Funds would help license and/or develop tech ($125-175K) – we aim to negotiate price with tech co or find tech sponsor. We also need help developing robust online community. If funding is available, we would start by hiring a consultant on fostering networked community ($10K), then hiring staff to implement plan ($50K)

Timing is perfect. Curriculum is built, being piloted and improved. Students are eager to enroll. Now, we need to determine how best to scale so we can reach more students and foster and support a community of immigrant advocates for justice.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds would primarily support the technology side of the project. We want to use appropriate edtech solutions so that we can scale, provide formative assessment and a positive user experience. Good technology will also collect data so that we can continue to improve and iterate based on the feedback on student learning.  

We are creating a new career path - so the edtech solution also needs to build a robust community and facilitate mentoring and other forms of support post-graduation. 

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

Fall 2022, with BridgeBuilder funds, we will:

Scale to create organic online community 

Collaborate w/leading experts in online education, immigration law & practice, trial advocacy, and leading immigration NGOs, to design, build, test and improve online curriculum to ensure it is learned-centered and aligns w/learning competencies & community needs 

Promote to gain visibility 

Create infrastructure to support organic community (students, alumni, community partners) 

Expand pipeline for trained advocates in communities w/intense need & limited access to lawyers

Partner w/colleges; consider expanding to int’l markets

Build alliances w/immigrant serving organizations, faith-based organizations, others, interested in sending students to VIISTA or in employing grads

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

IMPACT: graduate 10,000 Immigrant Advocates by 2030. And, it is realistic, if I can scale through technology. If every one of those new immigrant advocates helped just 2 immigrant families each month, they would help 1.3 million immigrant families by 2030. If I can scale, I would iterate curriculum and expand worldwide (many comments through this challenge indicate there is worldwide need) 

EVALUATION: collect and measure data on learning outcomes, impact of graduates on the job, impact on clients, and impact on the immigrant-community.

STRATEGY: Continue to learn from users, experiment, prototype and improve. Emphasis on understanding immigrant-community needs, iterating based on those needs, gathering feedback on teaching and learning, iterating curriculum to improve teaching and learning. I want VIISTA to achieve maximum impact

OPEN QUESTIONS: how to (1) effectively reach scale? (2) measure outcomes? (3) use edtech to scale and foster learner community

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Prof. Michele Pistone is currently the only full-time paid person working on VIISTA.  Pistone is a leading expert in immigration, online legal education & assessment. She oversees curriculum design & development, marketing & communications, and is currently teaching the pilot. 

An additional full-time hire is approved who could provide admin support & manage growing community of people and organizations interested in VIISTA.

Pistone leverages a team of experts to design & develop VIISTA's curriculum. The team is unusually large; including people who bring unique perspectives and backgrounds - law professors, law practitioners, and experts in various disciplines, including legal writing, history, theology, cultural studies and public administration. 

Villanova instructional designers, videographers, and communications & marketing staff support VIISTA.

 

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

EXPERT test Slack to create a one-stop shop for sharing information that feels organic. Include feedback loop to take in input & evolve

IMPROVE created Slack account & started testing w/pilot students, will monitor Slack for improvements & ways to evolve

EXPERT think broader than learning outcomes, measure impact on cmt’y-how many imm families are being served by graduates? 

IMPROVE will develop mechanisms to measure these outcomes & monitor that learning relevant to on-the-job needs

MENTOR Create a clear process for evaluation 

IMPROVE will create surveys, seek feedback from cmt’y partners, clients & imm communities & assess learning

USER Blackboard limiting abilities to share content, create study groups & engage

IMPROVE test Slack

Attachments (1)

VIISTA is a Bridge .pdf

We see VIISTA as a bridge that links migrant and refugee families who need help navigating a complex and intimidating immigration bureaucracy with welcoming communities of peace and justice focused champions for change who want to be part of the solution but lack the skills and knowledge to help in meaningful ways. The VIISTA is holistic, interdisciplinary and designed to train immigrant advocates to make an immediate impact on the lives of migrant families in need

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Photo of Isaac Jumba
Team

Hello Michele Pistone 

Great to read through your final submission. Quite a lot of clarity, and new added information. I'm glad that the feedback from your mentor Kinda Al Massalmeh , your expert, and your users was really helpful during the Improve Phase. The visuals help communicate your idea better.

Do you have a current group of learners taking the course at the moment? Also share how the pilot of using "Slack" is coming along

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Hi Isaac Jumba I am delighted that the submission is clear. The Improve Phase was very useful to me. I benefited tremendously from all the feedback, meetings and activities I undertook during the last few weeks.

Yes, we do have a current group of learners taking the program now. The students are part of our pilot. They are pictured in some of the material that I posted in the Challenge and their feedback is also uploaded and reflected in some of my answers and descriptions. I am using their feedback to iterate and improve the curriculum on a regular basis. I am thrilled to have them in the pilot and we are learning a lot from each other.

As to Slate, it looks like the program has many of the technological functions that I am looking to have in a program. I created an account and started to play around with it. I also watched some videos and have done some research on it. One of the students in the pilot uses Slate in her job and recommends it as a good solution to our current technology and communications issues. Based on what I learned, I approached my educational technology colleagues on my university campus to figure out whether Slate is a tool that we can use and assign to our students. It has to be cleared by our educational technology team before I can start to use it officially in my course. Once it is cleared, I will begin to use it and collect feedback from the students in the pilot.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

My best,
Michele

Photo of Arsene Mongane Baci
Team

Tonnepouvoir mettre en place cette idée en république démocratique du Congo où je reste et où je pense que l'idée serait aussi adapté que possible.
Élargir dont les énergies dans d'autres endroits devrait plus intéressé. Je serai fier de pouvoir être le représentant de cette idée ici. Je suis aussi défenseur des droits humains en tant qu'avocat on peut faire beaucoup des choses. Il suffit juste de se lancer.

Photo of Arsene Mongane Baci
Team

MadaMichelle Pistone
Que pensez vois de l'idée d'une sensibilisation relationnelle dans le cadre de tes idées ? La création des réseaux des sensibilisateurs ne serait plus motivant en n'oubliant pas qu'on ligne c'est vrai on créé une bonne structure mais qu'en physique l'interaction humaine constitue même le socle. ?
Comme qui dirait'' le meilleur pont entre les hommes reste l'homme lui même''.

Photo of Arsene Mongane Baci
Team

Voilà pourquoi la mise en place des cliniques juridiques appuyées par des kiosques d'informations, veilles communautaires ainsi que des points focaux dans les communautés , ceci viendraient rendre plus durable et pérenne l'idée de transformation sociale et sociétales. Les mêmes avocats et/ou défenseurs formés ou produits devront annuler ces structures étant eux mêmes impliqués et bénéficiaires des projets.

Photo of Arsene Mongane Baci
Team

Je ne sais pas comment dire. En te lisant j'ai comme impression qu'on a été tous ensemble lors de l'élaboration dans ce challenge. J'ai aussi proposé un projet sur l'accès à la justice par la mise en place des kiosques d'information juridiques et veilles communautaire. Je trouve que cette idée peut être bien développé dans le cadre de ton idée. En plus ne pas seulement rester en ligne étant donné que nombreux sont ceux qui n'ont pas la notion d'Internet voire n'ont pas des possibilités pour s'en procurer.
Merci pour cette idée très intéressante.

Photo of Elias Bakhash
Team

As a Syrian asylum seeker and a former CRS staff, a lot of people ask me on daily basis, how can we help refugees and what can we do to advocate. I always struggle to answer this question, but Professor Pistone found the answer to this question by starting the VISTA initiative. Thank you!

Photo of Suzanne Toton
Team

Professor Pistone's VIISTA fits each of OpenIDEO's stated values. Immigrants, among the world's most vulnerable population, are at its center. Through on-line legal education, VIISTA brings together people of conscience who are deeply disturbed by the denial of their fundamental human rights. It provides opportunity to acquire and put into practice specific skills that can make a difference in the life chances of this marginalized population. VIISTA interrupts the increasing hopelessness by offering a genuine opportunity to be part of the solution.

Photo of Dan Griffin
Team

This innovative and urgently needed initiative has the potential to significantly impact refugee protection and immigration justice by providing the necessary skills and knowledge to an entirely new, and substantially broader, audience of potential advocates. This program will literally encourage and empower these advocates to represent and protect some of our most vulnerable communities. Having spent years working with refugees and internally displaced peoples though Catholic Relief Services, I am very grateful for the hopeful message and call to action that comes through the VIISTA program.

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Another improvement that I plan to make comes from the feedback from my mentor Kinda Al Massalmeh . Kinda suggested that I aim to build a sustainable networked community of immigrant advocates including current & prospective students, graduates, community partners, mentors, clients & employers. The network should extend beyond graduation and be a source for assistance and support on the job. Given her expertise in mental health, she also suggested that the post-graduation support include mental health support. Mental Health of service workers, like immigrant advocates, is so important to prevent advocate burn out and keep them in their jobs.

I plan to use this feedback to improve the idea. Now, I am thinking about the user journey as extending into the post-graduation space. I plan to use Slack (a tool recommended by my expert Nate Wong ) to build a networked community to support continuing education and mental health. My aim is to foster a robust, inclusive online community that extends beyond the classroom in time and space. It will include community partners, experts, students, graduates, mentors and sources of support for continuing education, mentoring and mental health support.
Thanks for the ideas, Kinda Al Massalmeh and Nate Wong 

Photo of Kinda Al Massalmeh
Team

Michele Pistone Thank you so much Michele.I wish you all the best.Keep up the good work.

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh
Team

These are my last 3 sets of important questions for you and your team before the final review stage begins.

Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your mentor on your idea?
1.
2.
3.
Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your user on your idea?
1.
2.
3.
Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your expert on your idea?
1.
2.
3.

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Hi, @Bremley Lyngdoh 

Here are responses to your questions.

Mentor Feedback
1. create a clear process for evaluation (surveys, feedback from community partners, clients, immigrant communities, assessment of learning)
2. build a sustainable networked community of immigrant advocates that includes current and prospective students, community partners, mentors, clients, and employers. Post graduation support should include mental health support (to prevent advocate burn out on the job)
3. I like that you included providing trauma-informed care and self and communal care into the curriculum. That is very needed in the field, to prevent burn out among advocates and to create empathy with immigrant families and communities.

User Feedback:
1. "I want to become part of a community of like-minded advocates for immigrant justice" - in response to this need, I will foster an online community that extends beyond the course.
2. Blackboard (the learning management system) is limiting our abilities to share content, create study groups and engage. Based on the Expert feedback, I created a Slack account for VIISTA. We will test it in the pilot, starting in 2 weeks. It should address some of the issues the current pilot students raised.
3. "I need to help immigrants and their families." "I feel helpless, VIISTA provides hope and purpose."

Expert Feedback:
1. "I think the key to an engaged community is 1) to create a one-stop shop for information, 2) create the right infrastructure to facilitate conversations, but open for it to feel organic, and 3) tangible tools for people to engage outside of the tool itself." Test this using Slack. There is a free online version. (I created a Slack account for VIISTA).
2. I am concerned about building a broad-based organic online community. He said "it'll be important to make sure that the scaling process keeps in mind the binding constraints of the community formation and that there's a feedback loop involved to take in input and evolve."
3. When measuring outcomes/outputs, think broader than learning outcomes. Also measure the impact on the community, i.e, how many immigrant families are being served by graduates? I will also continue to monitor to ensure that the learning that takes place within VIISTA is relevant to the on-the-job needs.

Thanks to you and the OpenIDEO team for connecting me with the expert and the mentor. The exchanges with them were very enriching, I learned a lot that I will incorporate into the program design.

Overall, this process has been wonderful.
Michele

Photo of Nate Wong
Team

Hello! I'm your assigned expert, Nate! Such a great and impactful idea. I think your questions are spot on after reading this.

1. How to build a vibrant, cohesive, online community? Prospective & pilot students want to study in community, share resources, post questions to mentors, and form study groups, and to feel part of a community of like-minded advocates for immigrant justice.
> This is going to be key to take it from static and very important trainings to making this a platform to facilitate organic online community. I think the key to an engaged community is 1) to create a one-stop shop for information, 2) create the right infrastructure to facilitate conversations, but open for it to feel organic, and 3) tangible tools for people to engage outside of the tool itself. I do think it'll be important to understand how users are interacting with each other and perhaps a low-fidelity test might be to set-up a free Slack platform with some dedicated open channels and perhaps other closed channels for subsets of your groups. Obviously you can build this out further to a be a larger effort but it may be good to see you can get the community to connect via Slack to engage before investing in something bigger.

2. How to scale the educational program without losing its teaching effectiveness? The need for advocates is huge, but immigrant allies need education so they can meaningfully help. At scale, VIISTA is a bridge that links two growing needs.
> This is an important question and the key thing to better understand further is what scale looks like to you? Is it just around the educational resources or is it around the communities themselves or both? If it's the educational resources itself, then it will be finding the right intermediaries to help use the materials. If it includes the communities, then it'll be important to make sure that the scaling process keeps in mind the binding constraints of the community formation and that there's a feedback loop involved to take in input and evolve.

3. How best to evaluate the impact of the program, set goals, develop benchmarks & collect data?
> I think the theory of change really needs to be spelled out a bit more. Is your key here to graduate immigration advocate representatives or is it to also create a community? I ask because understanding how impact will happen will be key and if you think you're going to help Immigrant Advocates actually deployed to help appropriately (which you can measure) or if it's more open and you'll have to rely on other networks or players to deploy them. Essentially are you more so certifying quality and creating a pipeline for other organizations or are you actually doing the training and deploying elements for IRs. Depending on your answer here, it'll change how you think about measurement, your goals, etc. It'll be important to articulate your key inputs/ actions (e.g., trainings) and how those lead to key outputs (e.g., X IRs graduating) and more importantly how those lead to outcomes (graduates then are able to more effectively help Y immigrants) and ultimately impact (Z immigrants are better advocated for leading to XYZ), Depending on your causal linkages here you may only be able to really focus on a few pieces and then need to rely on other partners to help you execute toward impact, which will affect how you measure your success and attribution.

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Nate, your input is so helpful. You helped me to refine my thoughts and come up with concrete ways to move forward. You asked me some questions in your feedback, which I aim to respond to in the comments below.

1. I am familiar with but have not yet used Slack in my work. I started a free account for VIISTA yesterday. I have asked the pilot students to create accounts (sent them a Slack invitation through my account) and will pilot its use starting with Module 2, Session 2, which starts on October 21. So, great timing to introduce something new. The pilot is half way through, so we can test Slack over the next 3 sessions.

If you have any tips about ways to foster a Slack community, please let me know. Also, if you have could recommend any videos or readings on ways to maximize your community engagement through Slack, those would be very welcomed as well. Otherwise, I will search for relevant resources online.

2. To me, scale is both around educational resources and the communities. In relation to the educational resources, I want to be able to reach and effectively teach all the students who want to learn the material. I suspect that edtech could help to streamline that process, especially the assessment end.

As to the communities, this is a huge component of the process. Because the career path I am fostering is at its infancy, the community of graduates will need ongoing support beyond graduation. There is no existing system to support this community. I need to build it, and ideally it will begin while they are engaged in the educational program (perhaps through Slack). I believe this is central to success because graduates will need a community so that they and the larger cohort can expand and prosper. Further, many people outside the student cohort want to involved in the teaching and mentoring. The system we develop needs to be able to accommodate people from outside the educational infrastructure.

When you mention the need to be mindful of the “binding constraints of the community formation,” which specific things should I be looking for? Any ideas of how this might manifest would be helpful.

Finally, I agree that feedback and iteration are critical to success. In the educational program, I included short surveys at the end of each unit and that alone has been so helpful as I design and iterate the program. If you have any ideas of ways to build the feedback loop into the community formation part of this project, please send them along.

3. Great idea. I think I can easily measure the inputs (trainings) and key outputs (graduating students). We will have that data in our registration and graduation material. I would like to also create systems to collect data on impact on the community. So, if I graduate X students a year and they each help Y families, by the end of 10 years, the program would have helped XY families.

The key is to graduate advocates who are part of a growing community. The Immigrant Advocates trained through VIISTA and after they graduate they will be employed at immigrant-serving organizations around the country. That network of immigrant-serving organizations already exists; I plan to help our graduates obtain jobs within the existing pipeline post-graduation.

In addition to placing graduates at existing organizations, I would also like to work to expand the pipeline of organizations that can employ our graduates. For example, a local church in my community would like to hire two immigrant advocates and start to provide immigration-related legal services to its parishioners. Similarly, a Lutheran pastor is applying to VIISTA hoping to open a center for immigration advocacy in her community to help the 300+ families in her parish that need legal assistance. Local public libraries may also be interested in taking similar steps. This is part of the stage 2 process, which I can start to focus on once the curriculum is up and running and some graduates are working in the community.

Thank you again for your insights and kind words of inspiration. I am thrilled to be working on this project. I am inspired every day to keep moving forward. Every time I speak about the program, people want to get involved. I know there is a community of supporters out there. I need to build a system that supports them and encourages them to and helps them, as a prospective student explained, "feel part of a community of like minded advocates for justice."

Thank you, again,
Michele

Photo of Tuan Samahon
Team

This is such important work. Few people understand that immigration proceedings are civil, not criminal, and that therefore there are none of the usual legal procedural protections that go along with a criminal proceeding. Importantly, there is no right to counsel paid by the government, even though the legal peril one faces if removed is very significant. Your proposal would really act as a force multiplier for justice.

Photo of Sarah Story
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Hello there,

This seems like a really great and vital project, in Europe we have many similar problems, with migrants and refugees being unable to access legal aid. We have created an online facebook page which is slightly different and collaborate with the great UK based organisation, Right to Remain, which has created a toolkit for allies and supporters of people in the UK. Perhaps we could collaborate and share some of the challenges, failures and successes that we have both experienced, or our colleagues and comrades have. Here is the Right to Remain Toolkit - which we use regularly, https://righttoremain.org.uk/,
it is based on the UK immigration system - as well as the recent videos we have created. Here are our most recent videos - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz2nofdrN2SdwIiwHPO33Yg - it would be great to link up and share ideas! my email is sarah@refugeeinfobus.com!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Hi Sarah Story Thank you so much for referring me to the Right to Remain website! You have done such an amazing job with it. What platform are you using to build the site? How are you collecting information about impact? Who is using the site? It is refugees themselves (I noted that the videos seem to be talking directly to the asylum seeker) or people who are advocating for refugees?
I also love that you have translated the materials into several languages.
I will email you and let's plan to connect in the next week or so.
Looking forward to connecting,
Michele

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh
Team

Thank you so much for your kind response and once you have received the valuable feedback from your mentor, please kindly share with us what steps you have taken to test your idea in the field with your users and how they feel about it after your consultation with them. Please post your thoughts here on the comments section next week after you know exactly what the users think of your idea. All the very best!

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Hi Bremley Lyngdoh 
I had some great user meetings and found some common themes in the responses, especially around a (1) self-motivated calling to help migrants and (2) feeling of being stuck now without a way to help in meaningful, hands on ways. They are grateful for the VIISTA program for filling the void and offering a way forward. Here are some of the direct quotes:
• “I hate what I am seeing happen in my country. I can’t just stand by and watch. I need to take action.”
• “Hearing stories from migrants in our neighborhood has opened my eyes to the enormity of the refugee and migrant crisis and has given me a first-hand look at the complexity of their situation. I want to do something to help them.”
• “I want to help. Meeting and caring for many 'dreamers', has made me realize that it could be my own child who is always anxious, and wondering about her future.”
• “Speaking with immigrants from Syria and other areas-hearing their horror stories and how they have been mistreated, has truly angered me, and has moved me to take action.”
• “I need to help combat the ignorance surrounding refugees and migrants.
• “I need to provide migrants and refugees a voice in the judicial system.”
• “I love learning and helping people, I need to put what I have learned about migration to work in service of others.”
• “Helping others is part of what it means to be human.”

I am grateful to be part of this challenge and for the resources and structure to engage in this user/student-centered design work.
Michele

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh
Team

I am happy to see the progress that you have made so far and I hope you are able to use the feedback you have got from your mentor. You should be receiving the answers on the 3 questions that you have sent to the expert by the 7th of October which you can then incorporate into your idea before the final evaluation deadline on the 14th of October.

Please remember to answer all the 5 additional questions on the platform when you have got all the updated information with you from all your consultations with your mentor, expert and users. All the best!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Thanks Bremley Lyngdoh I had a wonderful conversation with my mentor. Thank you so much for making that connection for me. I look forward to hearing from the expert next week and working with that feedback and information to iterate and improve the idea.
Michele

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh
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Can you please confirm if you have made contact with your mentor and if you have agreed on a date to have your one hour check in call to discuss about your idea?

Can you please confirm if you have thought of 3 questions for your idea to post on your comments section that you would need an expert to answer by 20th September?

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Hi Bremley Lyngdoh . Yes, I am scheduled to meet with my mentor on September 23. We have emailed back and forth; I look forward to meeting her.
Yes, I submitted 3 questions for the expert. Please let me know if they do not appear on the platform. I uploaded them several days ago.
Thanks you for your support,
Michele

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Congratulations on making it to the Improve Phase as part of the 40 Shortlisted Proposals!

Now the real improvement work begins so please prepare yourself to get constructive feedback from the mentors who will comment on your idea and experts who will question about your idea.

They will test the Desirability of your idea - if that is what people desire, they will test the Viability of your idea - if it is financially viable and they will test the Feasibility of your idea - if it is technically and organizationally possible to be executed in the real world.

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Thanks, Bremley Lyngdoh I really look forward to this stage of the process.

I started to do some user interviews - I interviewed a potential student last night - and the insights were great. One thing I learned from her and have also been hearing from the pilot students is the need to feel part of a community of like-minded advocates for immigrant justice. So, that means I really need to figure out how to develop and maintain a strong user experience and use networking and community building tools to support this customer need. In fact, that is now one of the 3 questions that I posed for the BridgeBuilder experts to help me to think through.

I have also enlisted one of my current students in the VIISTA pilot, Jane Brady (who is part of my OpenIDEO team) to conduct interviews with prospective students in the "encore career" persona. She has been talking up the program and has started to recruit students for the launch. It is great to be able to use user centered design techniques to engage with those potential users now and figure out their needs and expectations from VIISTA.
Let us know if there are any questions that you think we should pose to them during the focus group and interviews.

Thanks again for all your support! This process is making VIISTA even better. I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Michele

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Team

Great work so far Jimmy and now I will play the role of the Bridgebuilder Bee and cross-pollinate your idea with another other that could be mutually beneficial to both of you. Since your vision is for VIISTA to be bridge that links migrant and refugee families who need help navigating a complex and intimidating immigration bureaucracy with welcoming communities of peace and justice please connect with Chau Tang Duncan  and see how you ladies can collaborate with the Migration Lab that she is building to help finance social ventures led by IDPs and Refugees and created a bridge between Europe and Africa and extend the reached to the US in your context. See https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/2019-bridgebuilder-challenge/improve/enabling-payments-for-ecosystem-services-via-goodwallet-for-idps-to-restore-land-in-kenya

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Team

Hi Michele. Your video was inspiring. I accompany many of these communities to court. It is always a drenching experience. My take is the same there is little understanding of the legal process and yes it language but it is also cultural. It seems like the framework that you are proposing is key to a successful program. There are many allies and people willing to accompany communities in their path but it is confusing to know exactly what to do and how to do it without compromising peoples on the move privacy, desires, etc...I wish you the best and I do hope we stay in contact. UIUC just hired (finally) an immigration lawyer so hopefully, they will get that clinic up and running. Up until now, all immigrants had to go to Chicago to get a lawyer. Imagine the cost!

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korinta maldonado I am glad you watched the video. I am sure you noticed that at the beginning of that video, I referenced a Mam-speaking Guatemalan client. When she went to immigration court, the judge spoke to her in Spanish, assuming she understood because she is Guatemalan. The next time she went to court, she brought a handwritten sign that said "I do not speak Spanish, I speak Mam."

After that she was referred to my legal clinic and we provided free legal services for her asylum case. But, even that was a challenge for her. My law students found an interpreter who could interpret from Mam to Spanish, but did not speak English. So, then we needed a second interpreter to interpret from Spanish to English.

There was another OpenIDEO idea about creating a platform for interpreters; started by Shau H 
I hope to work with them to develop a training program for interpreters.

I agree about that there are a lot of "allies and people willing to accompany communities." My goal is to give them the knowledge and training to make a meaningful impact on immigrant families. My training will include information about confidentiality, how to work with victims of trauma, and interviewing skills. That way, people will know how to help without compromising privacy, desires, etc.
Yes, let's stay in touch. I am thrilled that you hired a lawyer. Maybe one day you will be able to consider hiring an immigrant advocate graduate of VIISTA. Fingers crossed!

With that same Guatamalan client, one day my students were interviewing the client until the end of the school day and drove their client to school to pick up her elementary school daughter. When the student walked into the school, the Principal grabbed him and pulled him into a meeting. They were thrilled to be able to communicate with someone who could talk with the mother and explain basics like truancy, lunches, etc. That experience showed me how much advocates are needed to help people on the move navigate and integrate into their new culture.

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Bremley Lyngdoh - I just noticed that my answer to the question that asks for 3 questions for experts did not save. I sent an email to Bridgebuilder@ideo.com. I also wanted to alert you to this.

Here are the three questions I have for an expert:
1. How to build a vibrant, cohesive, online community? Prospective students and students in the pilot want to study in community; they want to share resources, post questions to mentors, and form study groups. They also want to feel part of a community of like-minded advocates for immigrant justice.
2. How to scale the educational program without losing its sense of community or effectiveness?
3. How best to evaluate the impact of the program, set goals, develop benchmarks, and collect data?

Photo of Marie-Noëlle. RUBANGIZA
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Une bonne idée qui permettra aux migrants d'éviter les erreurs.

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Merci!

Photo of Uchenna Okafor
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Hello Michele Pistone! i strongly admire this insightful design. However, is there any provision to cater for language differences among immigrants? Put differently, is there any module or other provisions for interpreters while defending immigrants in the immigration courts?

Photo of Michele Pistone
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I am thrilled that you admire the idea and design, Uchenna Okafor 
Yes, we have included training on how to work effectively with an interpreter. There is a series of videos on effective interviewing through an interpreter that we use in our training. Those modules also cover working effectively with survivors of trauma and providing trauma-informed care.
I have also been collaborating closely with Shau H and his team. They are working on an idea involving interpreters, here is the link - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/2019-bridgebuilder-challenge/ideas/overcoming-language-barrier-between-immigrants-and-legal-services
We are considering adding training for the interpreters as well so that interpreters know how to work effectively with immigrant advocates and lawyers. If we can train on both ends, advocates and interpreters, overall communication will be enhanced.

Thanks for your question. I hope I answered it for you.
Michele

PS, years ago I had a student with your last name.

Photo of Tish Fox
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This is an amazing program that will help so many people and help those who feel powerless feel more powerful with the ability to help those in need!

Photo of Rexford Kwabena Essuman
Team

Great concept your ideas has similar feature to my project in Ghana.Looking forward to share ideas on how legal assistance can be shared to migrants in various countries.

Great idea!

Photo of Ben Pietrzyk
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Through my previous work with Michele, I know of her extraordinary vision and work ethic to make meaningful change. VIISTA is program that offers an actionable solution that addresses the need for immigration advocates. I'm excited to see the future of VIISTA and continue supporting Michele in anyway that I can.

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Thanks Ben Pietrzyk You have been a supporter from the start - when this idea was only beginning to form. I am so thankful for that early support from the Uncommon Individual Foundation. Had UIF not provided that initial encouragement and support (through its internship program), VIISTA could never have evolved beyond a spark of an idea. You and your colleagues have been and continue to be sounding boards, focus groups and sources of inspiration. You and your colleagues asked me the tough questions and helped me to refine and broaden the idea. Many thanks - you are playing a huge role in the start up community in our region.

Michele

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I have known Michele many years and I've watched as the VIISTA concept has grown from an idea to a reality. Michele has an deep passion for helping those in need, and she has never wavered in her determination to bring this program to fruition. I am excited that everything is now coming together. The U.S. immigration system desperately needs the personnel that the VIISTA program will provide, and I look forward to supporting VIISTA program in any way that I can.

Congratulations to Michele and team!

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Thanks Michael Alguire , for your words of encouragement. I am so blessed to have such strong community support for the idea and looks forward to continuing to refine and test it.
Michele

Photo of Mary Beth Anderson
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Michele’s work in the immigration field is important and inspiring. I’ve known Michele since we were in law school together. She has worked tirelessly to assist people who do not have equal access to our legal system, and this new plan is so important. Many people who are brought before our immigration courts do not have legal representation. An online program that provides a path for people to become accredited to represent others in immigration court is genius. This is a project that can expand access to justice for people who otherwise may have little chance to experience justice. Great work, Michele and team.

Photo of Matthew Carluzzo
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Thank you for creating this important solution to a problem that so desperately needs attention.

Photo of Les Book
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What an important project--this brings together Michele's passion for improving access to justice, her talent at thinking about issues from an interdisciplinary perspective, and her deep thinking around the ways to best teach challenging concepts. At a time when some make migrant and refugee families feel unwelcome and unsafe, VIISTA can help empower people to show the compassion, love and integrity that reflect the better part of our society. Thank you for your work.

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Team

I have been talking with Michele about this program for at least 18 months. She's an amazing visionary and tireless worker who has done amazing things to get VIISTA this far. She is absolutely in the need of support (read: funding) so that she can help solve this problem that is tearing apart our society --- her efforts simply need to be scaled up (read: taken online) while maintaining the effectiveness of her program. I know this scaling is possible because I've seen it done at my company. This is not pie-in-the-sky hoping. It can be done, and I hope she is able to find the way forward. We'll all be better off.

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Thanks for your kind works of support and encouragement, Scott Moore . You have helped me so much along the way.
Michele

Photo of Meghan Petsko
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This is an incredible program that looks to become both empowering and inspiring!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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thanks for your encouragement, Meghan Petsko 

Photo of Joy Mullane
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This is an amazing program that will fill a critical need in providing immigrants with access to advocacy services.

Photo of Lori Corso
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The VIISTA program provides absolutely vital training to immigration advocates. Many people are saying "What can I do to help migrants? How can we improve the immigration experience for those coming to our country?" VIISTA provides a range of training, from background for those who are working with immigrants and want to better understand their experience and the immigration ecosystem through those who want to provide legal representation. This program the impact it will have are more than inspiring!

Photo of Deborah Rubino
Team

The VIISTA program ambitiously addresses a tremendous need at a most opportune time in history. This innovative program creates a more just equilibrium by providing training to those who will provide legal assistance to the most vulnerable. I have worked with Michele Pistone for several years and never cease to be amazed by her contagious enthusiasm, tireless energy, and ability to bring her vision to fruition. Her dedication to her mission is inspiring!

Photo of Elliot Cordano
Team

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for Professor Michele Pistone as she continues to develop the VIISTA program. I've had many opportunities to delve into the finer details of the program and learn about the individuals on the design team putting this project together. The more I learn about this program the more it changes my perspective on the current legal system and how it can be positively changed in the near future. I think VIISTA has enormous potential and provides us with an opportunity to actively change the social/economic/political climate in the United States for the better. Seriously looking forward to the success of this program!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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It has been great to have you on our team, Elliot. I am thrilled that you have been able to see the potential we have through VIISTA to make much-needed change.
Michele

Photo of Jenna Brignola
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This is such a great project! An excellent idea to make access to representation more attainable, as well as access to legal education. I'm so excited to see how this changes education and immigration advocacy!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Thanks Jenna. I am delighted to have you as a student in the pilot program. You and your class colleagues continue to provide such thoughtful and constructive comments and feedback during this formative stage of the curriculum's development. I was able to incorporate some of the feedback into the design of Module 2. Stay tuned for changes (hopefully, improvements) when the course continues in a few weeks . . .
Michele

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Team

This is such a great idea Michele Pistone  and the need of the hour in the US. I am looking forward to see how the Villanova University Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates will be deployed at the first university-based online certificate program to train non-lawyers. It is great to know that it was designed by an interdisciplinary team of leading faculty, lawyers, and NGOs that will revolutionize education about the law, educating a new category of legal advocates. Since you working on a products that will help people on the move gain access to legal help in the US and perhaps be replicated around the world you can take a look at the work of Lawyers Without Borders which is a 501c3 not-for-profit that manages volunteering lawyers from around the world who donate pro bono service to rule of law projects, capacity building and access to justice initiatives. https://lawyerswithoutborders.org/lwob/about/

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Hi Bremley Lyngdoh 

Thank you for your support. I was thrilled to learn more about lawyers without borders. I am building the VIISTA curriculum in a modular way so that we can reconfigure the curriculum for different audiences. One potential audience for the curriculum is lawyers who want to do pro bono work in the area of immigration and need training in immigration law and practice. In fact, one of the members of our faculty design team is from Tahirih Justice Center, https://www.tahirih.org. They have a lot of volunteer lawyers who need to learn immigration law and practice.

Once the curriculum has been build and piloted, we will use the feedback to iterate and refine it. Then, we can begin to test it on different audiences to learn about their particular needs. Volunteer lawyers is the first group that we will involve in that stage of the process.

I hope that we can stay in touch and collaborate with lawyers without borders at that stage as well.

Thanks again, Bremley!

Warm regards,
Michele

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Hi, Bremley Lyngdoh 
I met with some colleagues today and we decided to add a lawyer to the VIISTA pilot program. We will test the curriculum on the lawyer and seek feedback on whether and how it would need to be iterated and amended to use as a tool to train pro bono lawyers who have no prior experience in immigration law. I am glad that you inspired me to consider adding them now. The earlier I get feedback, the earlier we can determine how best to serve that community as well.
Thanks,
Michele

Photo of Gastone Mwiine
Team

This is so wonderful. Finally, this is a new hope for the voiceless immigrants. This is so vital a project. Wish you luck!

Photo of Michele Pistone
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Thank you, Gastone Mwiine 
Just the other day, our government changed the rules about access to public benefits and their impact on immigration status. These recent changes in our laws governing immigrant access to public benefits is another new challenge. Many immigrants are afraid and do not have complete information about the impact these rule changes will have on them. Many are foregoing seeking much needed medical attention, for example, because they are now afraid it will adversely impact their immigration status. In response, we now plan to add additional learning activities to the VIISTA curriculum. Our goal is to equip our students with the information they need to educate and empower immigrant communities about their rights.

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Dear Michele Pistone 

Great to have your idea for the challenge. I have really enjoyed watching the video about your work, and reading through comments for your idea. I especially like your approach to solving the problem (for using a human-centered and community-centered approach).

I wonder if there are any synergies and potential areas of collaboration with Shau H 's idea on Overcoming Language Barrier between Immigrants and Legal Services  - could be in terms of scaling or replication or some other ways?

Could you also share more about the insights and learnings from your pilot program? What aspects did you test out? What were the results? What are your immediate next steps?

Also, feel free to update your idea with the new insights and feedback.

Excited about the progress of the idea

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Thanks Isaac Jumba - using a human and community-centered approach has made the program stronger in countless ways.

Yes, there are a lot of synergies with Shau H idea. When an immigrant does have an advocate, interpretation is the next missing link between a client and his/her advocate/lawyer. A pool of properly trained and vetted interpreters would fill a huge gap in the process.

Shau, his teammate and I had a rewarding Zoom meeting and considered several ways to collaborate, such as by adding a training component to the interpreter platform. In my experience, there is a lot that interpreters need to know that will make them more efficient and more useful to lawyers - such as the need to keep all information confidential, the need to speak in the first person, and cross-cultural understanding, among others. It's possible that some of the educational materials we are creating for VIISTA can be repackaged for interpreters. On top of that, we talked about working together to come up with other educational materials for the interpreters.

I also connected Shau with several of the students in the Villanova interpreter program - years ago my colleagues and I developed a program in collaboration with our colleagues who teach Spanish. We have at least 10 years of experience training students to become interpreters for immigration cases. Shau interviewed the students a few weeks ago to learn first-hand about their experiences.

As to the insights we gained from the pilot program, they range from broad concepts such as gaining a deeper understanding about the target student markets and what is driving them to take a program like VIISTA to specific details about the content and organization of the curriculum.

As to why students are taking the program, they said: "I want to make an impact in my community," "I want to be part of the solution," "I want to do something meaningful at this stage of my life." These insights will help us define our target market. Initially, we had not focused much on retirees and others seeking encore careers as part of our target student market.

Surveys gathered feedback on the assignments in each unit. We used some of the feedback in designing the curriculum for Module 2. At the end of Module 2, we aim to gather feedback from students comparing the teaching methodologies we employ in each of Module 1 and 2 to use when we iterate the entire program before the Fall 2020 launch. For example, we learned that the students want to provide more comments on each other's work and to work collaboratively. Here is a sample comment about that: “It would also be great if we could see each other's interview plans or other assignments and have an opportunity to review strengths. Could we also consider creating a bank of exemplary work to reference?” So, for Module 2, which I am building now, we incorporated "study groups" (which are used a lot in legal education) so that students can opt into groups and study together online. We also received feedback on a variation on the design for the Discussion Boards, which we are also testing in Module 2. We are also working to create a bank of work for reference.

Students also wanted to understand, in greater detail, how the knowledge, skills and values they were learning align to the work they will do post-graduation. In Module 2, I developed the VIISTA 5-Stage Advocacy Process and each Learning Activity that relates to the process is "tagged" to the appropriate stage so that students can visualize how the task relates to what they will do on the job.

We also received feedback on the educational technologies. We found some holes that we would like to improve with additional funding.

Students also reinforced the positives. Now, we are building more of the positives into the curriculum. For example, students thanked us for the time we took to explain the learning goals. We delineated Learning Goals for each Module, each Unit and each Learning Activity. We will continue to include this level of detail about what we expect the students to learn and added more into Module 2.

Here are some of the comments from the Module 1 overview survey:
• “I told a colleague the other day that I felt like this VIISTA program takes online learning to levels that I hadn't really imagined were possible.”
• “I feel really supported in the VIISTA community. I think the variety of activities and assignments that get us interacting with each other has helped to develop a great sense of community here. Like many of us expressed at the curriculum retreat, even though we had never met in person,we all instantly recognized each other and felt as if we had known each other for a long time.”
• “The VIISTA program exceeded my expectations in regard to support provided by professors and classmates. I feel a bond with my VIISTA classmates that I did not think was possible for an online learning experience.”

Photo of Corie Alicea
Team

The VIISTA program empowers concerned citizens with an opportunity to provide humanitarian aid to people who are being oppressed by a broken immigration system. The education, network, and resources this program provides is unprecedented and invaluable to the work of giving voice to individuals who are otherwise being ignored. Professor Pistone’s passion and strength of purpose for this work has produced an innovative solution to a grievous problem. It answers the question, “but I’m not a lawyer what can I do to help?"  VIISTA participants will be prepared in a way that enables them to become desperately needed and effective advocates for immigrants. The success of this program could have far reaching and lasting effects.

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Hello Michele,

Thank you for sharing this idea. VIISTA sounds like a revolutionary new way to promote the necessary skills for empowering migrant communities across the US, and it is wonderful to see Villanova investing its time and energy into such a promising and timely pursuit.

I am curious to learn more about the accredited representative as a career path. If participants are successful in applying to the DoJ role, will they be financially compensated? Do you envision this path to be a full-fledged career option, or rather more of a supplementary occupation in addition to participants’ typical routines? I would love to learn more about the model.

Thank you so much!

Photo of Michele Pistone
Team

Hi, Muaadh,

Thanks for the question and the positive feedback! Yes, I am thrilled to be able to lead this revolutionary project and to have the backing of my university.

Yes, accredited representatives is a career path. Unfortunately, there are currently less than 2,000 nationwide. I hope to ramp up that number, by a lot.

To become accredited by DOJ, you can work for a non-profit organization. Under US regulations, there are two levels of accreditation. Partially accredited representatives are authorized to represent clients in affirmative applications for immigration benefits before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Fully accredited representatives can represent immigrants in immigration court, just like a lawyer does. Most of the 2,000 accredited representatives (AR) are only partially accredited. Only 300 have full accreditation to represent clients in immigration court - that is where advocates are really needed!

Accredited representatives are employed by non-profits and are compensated by their employers. Many of the immigration legal services organizations employ accredited representatives. I envision the career path expanding as more people are educated to do the job. I recently learned that the nurse practitioner and physicians assistant careers both stared when universities started to train them.

Responding to an acute shortage of doctors, particularly among poor Americans, Duke University launched the first “physician assistant” program in 1965. Today, over 43,000 PAs work nationwide. The following year, the University of Colorado introduced the first “nurse practitioner” training program, designed to increase the supply of primary care providers in underserved urban and rural communities. Today, there are over 270,000 nurse practitioners and the profession is certified in all 50 states. These two classes of professionals play a vital part of the health services ecosystem, increasing access to care while decreasing the cost of care. It is hard to envision the health care system functioning effectively without them.

I think that VIISTA has the same game-changing potential. Its holistic and deliberatively designed curriculum teaches the specific competencies immigrant advocates need to represent migrants. It is a disruptive response to a system that is broken. My hope is that it will serve as a model for other affordable and scalable educational programs to meet the access to justice needs of underserved communities around the country, who, like immigrants and refugees, cannot access or afford to hire a lawyer.

I also plan to work to expand the pipeline of organizations that employ ARs. Public libraries, immigrant-serving community organizations, and faith-based organizations can all play a role in expanding access to justice by applying to host ARs, as employees or volunteers. Some of these organizations are already providing legal services. I would like to develop toolkits for groups and organizations that want to expand into providing legal services to migrants and refugees.

As you noted, it is an exciting project and I am blessed to be able to work on it. it is my way of responding to an access to justice problem that I have experienced for many years, and with educational technologies, am finally in a position to solve. I am a law professor and have been teaching law students to represent immigrants in immigration court for more than 20 years. I am now taking all of that experience - plus my love to teaching and learning sciences - and using it to design from scratch an online educational program that teaches everything that an immigrant advocate would need to know to effectively represent clients both before USCIS and the immigration courts. And, I am working with a team of experts - collectively we have more than 200 years of experience in immigration - to design a curriculum that is holistic and aligns with the tasks that accredited representatives do on the job.

There are so many passionate people energized to become part of the solution. They just need a sound education to become skilled to respond to the need. That's where VIISTA comes in.

I am thrilled to be able to work on this project. And thrilled to see that you recognized its potential. I hope I answered your questions, and would be happy to elaborate on any of my points, if that would be helpful.

Warmly,
Michele

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Team

Hi Michele,

Thanks for your warm and enthusiastic response. The comparison to the history of PAs and nurse practitioners (which was new to me!) is a wonderful point here, and so it seems inevitable that the sort of training that VIISTA is undertaking will fill a much-needed niche in the professional landscape. I look forward to learning more about the process as it all unfolds!

Kindly,

Yemen Without Conflict & ICRD

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Team

Thanks Muaadh Abdo Saeed Ahmed 
The PA and nurse practitioner history was so inspirational to me. We all know that being an entrepreneur has its challenges (as well as many rewards, of course). As an entrepreneur, or in my case, an intrapreneur, I had surveyed the community and broader ecosystem and had a sense of the community needs. Given my experience in the field, I could envision a solution that responds to community needs and desires. But, that vision meant I was venturing into new, unchartered waters, and need to convince others that it is a worthwhile endeavor.

That research came at a time when I needed that kind of boost to propel me forward. The fact that both programs originated at Universities was just the kind of information I needed. It reassured me that I was on the right track and need to keep moving forward, despite the obstacles and bumps in the road.

Thanks for your comments. It is nice to be a part of this community,
Michele

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Team

I had the pleasure of meeting Michele and heard first hand about this innovative program! The enthusiasm and expertise that she devotes to VIISTA is inspiring. For a lot of students who find themselves asking what they can do about the immigration crisis, Michele is offering a concrete solution that students and immigration activists can pursue. I especially applaud its holistic perspective that includes trauma-informed care. As a an undergraduate student at Villanova, I am proud that Villanova is advancing justice for immigrants through this program.

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Team

Hi Christine,

Thanks for your encouragement. It is particularly nice to hear from someone like you - a college student interested in advancing justice for immigrants.

We think that college students and recent college graduates will be particularly excited about VIISTA because it can prepare them to make a positive impact on the lives of immigrant families. With one year of education, our students can gain all the knowledge, skills and values they need to become an immigrant advocate and become part of the solution for immigrants and their families.

It is an exciting time to be working on this innovative project. I am blessed to be part of Villanova, an institution founded to teach immigrants that is committed to advancing the needs of immigrants.

Thanks again for your support,
Michele

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Team

I have had the privilege to work with Michele Pistone on this critical, timely, and innovative program since its original inception in fall of 2016. The learner-centered program is a direct result of Michele's work as an educator in immigration law and her practice-based preparation of law students in her Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services (CARES) as well as her dedication and passion for supporting immigrants. What makes the VIISTA program's educational approach exemplary is its interdisciplinary curriculum grounded in competencies and knowledge that stakeholders in immigration law determine as essential. That is, the curriculum has been designed to help students attain the core knowledge and competencies that they need to have to serve as immigrant advocates and to provide legal services to immigrants. I was amazed at Michele's ability to engage so many different groups (e.g., immigration judges, immigration lawyers, representatives of nonprofit organizations, representatives of faith-based organizations, researchers, faculty, students, deans of law schools) in contributing to the curriculum and volunteering to be involved throughout the development and implementation of the program. The VIISTA program truly embodies and entrepreneurial educational approach focused on practice-based education informed by constructive feedback and self-assessment in service of legal support for immigrants and refugees.

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Team

By correctly analyzing the flawed U.S. Immigration system as an access to justice problem, VIISTA is breaking ground in its search for a lasting solution for migrants. In addition, this online program promises to open up career pathways for many motivated, intelligent people who are potentially priced out of law school. Furthermore, the analogy to nurse practitioners and physician assistants is on point. The medical ecosystem, much like the legal field, is patriarchal and stubborn to change. However, after the military and some universities took the initial step of training a highly motivated, rebellious crop of students, these burgeoning workforces proved their worth and their sticking power. Now it's difficult to imagine the medical field without these professions, particularly in rural and urban communities where access to quality primary care would be a massive difficulty without NPs and PAs. Michelle and her team's vision for a similar effect in the legal ecosystem by creating a training program for fully accredited representatives is ripe and audacious — a fine solution for the problems immigrants face every day.

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Team

Hi Joe,

Thanks for adding the analogy to nurse practitioners and physician's assistants. It was great to learn that by introducing new educational programs, Duke University and the University of Colorado reformed the provision of health care in the 1960s. In their case, those academics were responding to an acute shortage of doctors, particularly among poor Americans, Duke University launched the first “physician assistant” program in 1965. Today, over 43,000 PAs work nationwide.

The following year, the University of Colorado introduced the first “nurse practitioner” training program, designed to increase the supply of primary care providers in underserved urban and rural communities. Today, there are over 270,000 nurse practitioners and the profession is certified in all 50 states. These two classes of professionals play a vital part of the health services ecosystem, increasing access to care while decreasing the cost of care. It is hard to envision the health care system functioning effectively without them.

I think that VIISTA has the same game-changing potential. Its holistic and deliberatively designed curriculum teaches the specific competencies immigrant advocates need to represent migrants. We met with several groups of stakeholders to determine the competencies that our graduates would need on the job. And all the learning aligns directly with those competencies and learning goals. I think that in the future, VIISTA could serve as a model for other affordable and scalable educational programs to meet the access to justice needs of underserved communities around the country, who, like immigrants and refugees, cannot access or afford to hire a lawyer.

But, people still think that only lawyers can provide legal representation. So, a lot of work needs to be done to break that mindset and explain this new model for legal empowerment. Potential students can add so much value through adding to the numbers of immigrant advocates.

I am starting now to envision a marketing campaign that will spread the word about VIISTA's potential. Stay tuned!

Michele

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Team

This program looks amazing. I am a Villanova undergrad and I think it is an amazing opportunity to use our time to help immigrants and refugees get the legal justice they need. I am very interested and excited to see if I can participate in the program!

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Team

VIISTA is a great program that has the potential to transform the legal education and provide access to justice for thousands of immigrants. One great part about it is how Professor Pistone has incorporated design thinking into the design of VIISTA to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of students. VIISTA would really benefit from the resources provided by OpenIDEO in order to help scale up the program and develop a technology platform that meets the unique needs of the program.

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Team

I am a participant in the VIISTA program and truly stand behind Michelle's innovative vision of removing barriers to accessing legal representation. The fields of education and law have been slow to incorporate technology into traditional models of teaching students but Michelle is blazing a path ahead for us to stand alongside immigrant communities.

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Team

Nicole, it is great to have you and the other students in our pilot. Prototyping the curriculum is a crucial step in the design process. It is a way to test the assumptions and get feedback from users. We intend to gather all that we are learning in the pilot and use that to inform the iteration of the curriculum in advance of launching the program in Fall 2020.

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Team

This is an innovative program that has been created by a passionate and impressive group of legal professionals who specialize in Immigration Law issues - and who are hoping to educate, develop and increase the amount of accredited Immigrant Representatives. This program clearly has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the lives of many people!

Photo of Eileen Doherty-Sil
Team

This is an amazing idea that fills one of the most critical issues facing our country (and world) today. Michele Pistone's leadership, and the VIISTA program, are truly visionary. There are so many people who want to make a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees, but don't have the legal training to do so, nor a clear idea of just how much they can do. This program does that - and has the potential to have an incredible multiplier effect in the positive reach it creates for individual lives.

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Team

Harnessing the power of community is such a powerful solution to this difficult problem. VIISTA works to develop the students' emotional, cultural, and legal intelligence in a way that is incredibly engaging. I'm excited to see what this program can do at a moment when it is so desperately needed.

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Team

This is a game changing program! By training non attorneys to effectively represent people seeking a home in the US, you are empowering people to be part of a solution to our country’s immigration problem. VIISTA has the potential to have a significant impact!

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Team

Thanks, Jane

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Team

As someone who wanted to make a difference in the lives of immigrants but lacked the proper skills, I'm really excited about this program. VIISTA is addressing a real need and giving me the tools necessary to step up and provide valuable support to immigrants in my community.

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Team

Thanks Adam. It is wonderful to have you in our pilot program. Prototyping the program is an important step in the process. I am thrilled to have someone like you who is willing to provide constructive feedback so that we can iterate and improve the program before it is launched in fall 2020. I have made so many changes to the curriculum based on feedback from the students in the pilot program - the prototype is doing what is it meant to do and that is very satisfying to me.

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Team

This program has tremendous potential; from its innovative design to its far-reaching impact, it fills a big gap in a broken system. VIISTA trains migrant advocates but also sheds light on the existence of the accredited representative path, one that many people aren't aware of. There are solutions, and there are many people who want to help. VIISTA provides the tools that lead to the solution, and in this current political climate, that's needed more than ever.

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Team

Thanks Massiel Valladares you are right that the time is ripe for a solution like this. There is so much misinformation about immigration, asylum and refugees. Education is a important to making sure we live in a society informed about immigration and people on the move.