Research Symposium



Register for Mercy College of Health Sciences’ 17th Annual Research Symposium: Immigrant & Refugee Journeys: Healthcare Issues & Opportunities. The event will take place on Monday, April 8, 2024, on Mercy College’s campus. Registration for the event is free. This year’s keynote speaker will be Amaya Alexandra Ramos, MSW, CPH, MA.

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Immigrant & Refugee Journeys:

Healthcare Issues & Opportunities

Monday,  April 8, 2024 | 12:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Mercy College of Health Sciences | Sullivan Center Room 102


Experience Mercy College’s

17th Annual Research Symposium

Mercy College’s 17th Annual Research Symposium will provide education and facilitate discussion on the topics of immigrant and refugee healthcare in the United States among a diverse group of medical professionals and members of the general public. The immigrant and refugee healthcare experience in the United States is a pressing issue. Symposium presenters will address several knowledge gaps that should be discussed to better understand this complex problem: healthcare disparities, cultural awareness, economic barriers, and insufficient staffing. By addressing these gaps in knowledge, healthcare professionals can get a better understanding of the issues and improve patient care for immigrants and refugees, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.

Schedule of Events




12:00 – 1:00 P.M. Registration and Poster Viewing
1:00 – 2:00 P.M. SESSION ONE: Ecosystemic Factors Impacting Equitable Access to Healthcare Services Among Immigrants and Survivors of Forced Migration (Keynote Address)

  • This session will examine how specific circumstances and exposures in the migration experience, systemic limitations within the national and international healthcare regimes, and other factors within the broader U.S. social service environment converge to reduce foreign born populations’ access to equitable healthcare. Among foreign-born groups, specific demographic subsets, such as survivors of forced migration, as well as trafficking, violence and torture survivors, are particularly vulnerable to health inequities. These inequities and their intergenerational dimensions can further impact social ascent, economic mobility, emotional health, and overall wellbeing. Disparities in access and healthseeking experiences, healthcare system learning needs, possible systemic interventions, and areas for continued advocacy are identified and discussed. 
2:20 – 3:15 P.M. SESSION TWO: Supporting Immigrants and Refugees Along Their Journeys

  • This session will discuss the unique challenges and opportunities in delivering healthcare to migrant, immigrant, and refugee farmworkers in Iowa. Through an examination of the intersection of cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors, they will share reflections and strategies on increasing equitable access to healthcare services, addressing barriers to care, and promoting preventative health care among farmworkers and their families. 
3:30 – 4:20 P.M. SESSION THREE: The Healthcare Journey: Issues and Opportunities, In Focus (Panel Discussion)

  • This interactive segment will delve deeper into the nuances of healthcare inequities among foreign-born populations, as well as the challenges and strategies associated with delivering healthcare services to immigrant and refugee communities. Participants are invited to inquire about specific case studies and explore potential avenues for collaboration and advocacy. 
  • Stephanie Moris (Moderator)Director, Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa (RACI)
  • Jodi Bowden-FuentesDomestic Violence Program Coordinator, Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (LUNA)
  • Barwaqo Aden – Assistant Director, Nisaa African Family Services
  • Carly RossExecutive Director of Dental Connections, Delta Dental
4:20 – 4:30 P.M. Closing Remarks


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Continuing Education


  • 3.00 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM
  • 3.00 AOA Category 2A
  • 3.00 CE Contact Hours
  • 3.00 IBON
Meet the


    Amaya Alexandra Ramos (Alexandra), MSW, CPH, MA, is an interdisciplinary researcher focusing on mental/public health programming for survivors of forced migration, torture and targeted violence. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, Alexandra advocates for ethnography as a vehicle for institutional learning, the enforcement of human rights, and the furtherance of equitable access to integrated health systems. Multilingual and proficient in all levels of engagement, she has supported humanitarian and development efforts from direct service provision through to administration for global bodies, including national and international-level: psychosocial program design and related research; crisis stabilization; immigration policy alignment; communications; monitoring and evaluation; education; and curriculum development. Alexandra has also worked in anti-human trafficking, post-disaster gender-based violence, and infectious disease research. Certified in Public health, Alexandra holds master’s degrees in Social Work, International Affairs (Middle East and modern languages emphasis), and Music (Ethnomusicology emphasis). Her regional specialization is working with Persian-speaking populations, as well as the broader Middle East/Central Asian regions. In addition to her work in research and social services, Alexandra is a lifelong visual and performing artist and seeks to incorporate the arts into holistic human rights practice. Alexandra is the founder and Chair of HazRav, non-profit displacement health/mental health research organization and information-sharing professional network that supports integrated wellbeing for both humanitarian beneficiaries, as well as their providers and advocates by mobilizing and synthesizing diverse sources of knowledge across a variety of interconnected sectors. Alexandra also holds an adjunct position teaching graduate coursework in Diversity and Social Justice in the University of South Florida’s school of Social Work.
    Barwaqo Aden is the Assistant Director at Nisaa African Family Services, an organization that serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in African communities in Iowa. Barwaqo is a Somali-American who grew up in Kenya and is dedicated to serving African communities. She has been an advocate at Nisaa since 2014 and through her role she overseas, implement projects and conducts community outreach. She is also responsible for organizing education programming, conducting trainings, and supervising advocates. Barwaqo has previously volunteered with immigrant populations in South Africa and the United States. Barwaqo is passionate about women’s global health and empowerment projects. She is a graduate from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science in Business Human Resources and a concentration in Global Management. When she is not working or giving back to her community, Barwaqo enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with loved ones. She can be reached at
    Jodi Bowden-Fuentes is the Domestic Violence Program Coordinator at Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A). Jodi began working with survivors of gender-based violence as a Bilingual Shelter Advocate at Children and Families of Iowa, Domestic Violence Services.  In that role, she had the opportunity to work closely with the Latino community and gain a practical understanding of immigration law, as well as extensive knowledge related to working with survivors as they navigate recovery from their victimizations. She received both her Associates Degree in Communications and a Bachelor of Science in Human Services Management from the University of Phoenix.  Jodi’s educational background focused on trauma-informed interventions, diversity and cultural competency, and women’s issues.
    Vilma Bramasco is the Health Clinical Director at Proteus, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides job training, health care, and education assistance to those who work in agriculture in Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana. She and her husband enjoy watching their son participate in sporting activities.
    Emily Mendez is Director of Development at Proteus. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, children, and extended family. Her family’s favorite activities are bike rides, watching movies, playing cards, and eating tacos together.
    Carly Ross is the Executive Director of Dental Connections, a private, non-profit community health center focused on providing dental care to all. Carly is also a public member of the Iowa Board of Dentistry. Carly has an extensive background working with the refugee and immigrant population in Des Moines. From 2015 – 2019, she was the Field Office Director for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In this role, she also served on the Steering Committee of the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa. Previously, she worked in East Africa for a non-governmental organization contracted by the U.S. State Department to help determine refugee eligibility for resettlement to the United States. Prior, she worked as a refugee resettlement case manager for Lutheran Services in Iowa, coordinating their high-need medical programs. She has a graduate degree from the Asian Institute of Technology where she conducted research on race and equity in Thai society.
    Sara Zejnic is the Deputy Director of Programs for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). She is responsible for leading the design and implementation of all direct service programs in the IRC Iowa office; including programming focused on refugee resettlement, economic empowerment, support to Ethnic and Community-Based Organizations (ECBOs) to deliver education and youth services, and health initiatives.

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Mercy College of Health Sciences Research Advisory Council

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