Opening Plenary

LESLLA Learners in the Pittsburgh Region: Bridging Language and Culture

Pittsburgh and its region have a long and proud history of immigrants and refugees settling here, contributing to its success and making it a place we all love. As a “welcoming city” it promotes inclusive policies, programs, and practices across all sectors, amplifying the message that all people are welcome—regardless of where they came from or when they arrived. Pittsburgh has a variety of immigrant and refugee populations, including Bhutanese, Burmese, Chinese, Congolese, Indian, Iraqi, Latino, who live, work, and go to school throughout the region. Our opening plenary panel will introduce you to our region and its LESLLA learners.

Jenna Baron is the Executive Director of Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE). Jenna’s work is informed by a belief that education and creative expression can be tools for liberation. ARYSE began in 2013 as a grassroots effort led by local refugee youth and college students who realized that English learners were being left behind. ARYSE organized the only summer program in the region specifically tailored to the needs of immigrant and refugee youth, which centers literacy development and storytelling through creative expression workshops. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, Global Studies, and African Studies in 2013 from University of Pittsburgh. Jenna is 2013 Fulbright Scholar, 2015 Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellow, New Leaders Council Pittsburgh Alumna, and a board member of Global Minds Initiative.  #ARYSEandshine


Dr. Xia Chao is on the Faculty of Language and Literacy education in the School of Education at Duquesne University. Combining methods and perspectives from educational anthropology and sociolinguistics, Dr. Chao investigates the intersections among literacy, culture, identity, and pedagogy in multilingual settings. Her work appears in the mainstream peer-reviewed research journals including Journal of Literacy Research, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Teacher Education Quarterly, Linguistics and Education, Urban Education, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, etc. Dr. Chao is the Principal Investigator of a project on refugee education. This project is funded by the National Geographic Society. Dr. Chao is also the recipient of the 2019 Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching in the School of Education at Duquesne University.


Nancy Krygowski is an ELL Instructor at Literacy Pittsburgh, specializing in low-level learners.  She creates and coordinates the curriculum for many of the Downtown Center’s ELL classes.  Nancy has Masters degrees from the University of New Hampshire and the University of Pittsburgh, with certification in teaching writing.  In her previous professional life, she was an ABE/GED instructor. Nancy is also an award-winning poet. Her second book, The Woman in the Corner, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2020.


Khara Timsina was born and educated in Bhutan. He was forced to leave the country in 1992 by the Bhutanese government. He lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 17 years before taking the opportunity to come to the USA through its refugee resettlement program. After eight months in New York City he and his family moved to Pittsburgh. Once in Pittsburgh Mr. Timsina started volunteering in the growing Bhutanese refugee community as well as co-organizing a group that would eventually found the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh (BCAP). Currently, he is the organization’s Executive Director. In 2016, Mr. Timsina was one of the eight refugee leaders nationwide to be recognized by the Obama Administration in the White House for their efforts in making America more welcoming. He is a strong believer in community information, education and development. Self-motivated, he continues to manage the neighborhood-based adult literacy and civics education classes (currently in 7 neighborhoods).  He is the Co-Chair of the Allegheny County DHS Immigrants and Internationals Initiative Advisory Council, Member of the Welcoming Pittsburgh Steering Coming, Member of the Vision Council at Jefferson Regional Collaborative, and serves on the Baldwin Borough Public Library Board of Trustees.


Allegra B. Elson, Director of English Language Learning (ELL), Literacy Pittsburgh, supervises the professional ELL instructional staff at Literacy Pittsburgh’s Downtown Center. She is responsible for ELL educational programming at Literacy Pittsburgh’s Downtown Center along with Workplace Literacy programming. She worked extensively with LESLLA Learners when she was an ESL instructor at Literacy Pittsburgh. She has a TESOL Certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University and a Masters degree in Italian Language and Literature from the University of Pittsburgh.

Closing Plenary

Beyond the Label: A Holistic Approach to Refugee Community Development

In this session, we will discuss the complexities associated with the refugee narrative and how they impact the ways in which we approach refugee community development. Through an ecological perspective and strength-based approach, this session will explore various refugee resettlement and integration questions including the following: 1) what does it mean to be a refugee in the U.S.? 2) How does race, religion, class, and gender impact the refugee experience in the United States? 3) What does ethical, holistic refugee community development look like?

Featured Speaker:
Ifrah Magan
Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow/Assistant Professor, BS, AM, PhD
New York University

With over a decade of experience working in refugee and immigrant communities, Dr. Magan’s primary research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, religion, and class in refugee resettlement and integration. Her other research interests include access to health and mental health services amongst Muslim refugees, national and international immigration policies, community-­centered research models, international social work, and indigenous methodologies.

As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Magan incorporates storytelling as a method of understanding the lived experiences of refugee and immigrant populations. Dr. Magan received a Bachelor of Science degree in Family and Community Services from Michigan State University where she was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. She then went on to receive a Masters degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration where she was a recipient of many awards including the Kathryn Davis Peace Award, and served as a Child Advocate for unaccompanied undocumented children through the Young Center at University of Chicago School of Law. She received her doctorate degree from University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work where she was a recipient of the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award. Her doctoral dissertation explored the migration paths of Somali refugees in Chicago, and in particular, how ethnic and religious identities impact (if at all) their resettlement and integration.

In addition to her academic work, Dr. Magan is deeply inspired by the rich poetic tradition of her Somali culture and is currently working on her first poetry collection.