Young Immigrants + Extracurriculars
A qualitative research study investigating the intersection of technology, adolescent immigrants, and extracurricular engagement.
Helping networks of caregivers manage their loved ones medications with confidence.
The topic space
How might extracurricular involvement in the lives of adolescent immigrants be supported through technology?
Topic choice

Background + Inspiration

Nearly one in five U.S. residents today is an immigrant. At a local level, King County has the third largest increase in foreign-born residents among all U.S. counties since 2010. Quoting researchers also in the UW community:
"While diversity brings incredible richness, it also brings responsibility for helping immigrants participate in American life and culture versus isolating themselves within ethnic communities."
My capstone team, comprised of three individuals from three different countries, decided to devote our MHCI+D capstone project to exploring the intersection of the immigrant experience and technology. Crucial to this project was support from both our sponsor and continuous involvement with local community-based organizations focused on supporting immigrants like the Refugee Women's Alliance and Project Rise.
View our Comprehensive Research Report

Conducting Research

getting started

Research Questions

Our choice to narrow into the area of extracurricular involvement in adolescent immigrants was inspired by an early exploratory interview we conducted with the Youth Program Manager at ReWA. We formed the following research questions as a jumping off point:

• What role do extracurriculars play in the lives of local adolescent immigrants?
• How do these teenagers discover and make decisions about what they participate in?
secondary research

Research Methods

Literature Review

We gathered information from academic papers, blog posts, news articles, and content from local non-profits to gain a better understanding of this space including the adolescent immigrant experience and extracurricular involvement.

Competitive Analysis

We developed a framework that would help us continue to explore three distinct aspects of extracurricular experiences: discovery, programming, and quality assurance.
Download our report here.

Examples of programs and frameworks we analyzed in our Competitive Analysis. From left to right: SOWA Quality Improvement System, Vertical Generations, Project Rise at the Seattle World School, and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Resources
Expert Interviews

Talking to the Experts

We prioritized conducting many semi-structured interviews with professionals experienced in working with immigrant and refugee communities. This helped us understand the role of extracurricular engagement in the adolescent immigrant experience.

We also received feedback on our plan for primary research including best practices for working with sensitive populations such as immigrant communities.

Sarah Peterson

State Refugee Coordinator of the Office of Refugee & Immigrant Assistance

Heidi Neff

Program manager for Youth Tutoring Program supporting Immigrants

Methal Dabaj

Software engineer actively supporting Syrian refugee resettlement in the WA

Tamthy Le

Associate Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association

Pang Chang

Refugee School Impact Program Director for School’s Out Washington

Katya Yefimova

Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington Information School

primary research

Interviewing Local Immigrants

Central to our research activities was speaking with immigrants themselves. To respect the vulnerability of immigrant teenagers who are currently in the midst of identity formation, we focused on recruiting first-generation immigrants aged 18-24 who lived through adolescence in King County. We also prioritized recruiting a group of individuals who are diverse in their countries of origin.

research methods

Cultural Probes

To accompany our semi-structured interviews, designed a Cultural Probe consisting of three short activities that participants completed before our scheduled interview sessions. Our goal with these activities was to encourage and support reflection which was crucial for our research since participants we spoke to had already lived through adolescence

Examples of completed probe activities, click to expand!

Through the activities, we were able to gain deeper insights into the relationships that impacted our participants’ lives and how they related to their extracurricular involvement choices.

research methods

Experience Mapping

Using an experience mapping activity during our sessions helped us visually document the journey of a participant’s involvement with a specific extracurricular activity depicted in chronological order.  

An interview participant pinning up highlights of their experiences in Key Club during High School

Our goal with this experience mapping exercise was to help us better understand the stages of emotions involved in extracurricular involvement for our participants. We also hoped to explore especially positive moments or needs for improvement in the participants’ experiences.

Getting involved

Volunteering at ReWA

Throughout our r


Understanding the Data

After conducting our interviews, we transcribed our data using affinity diagramming. Through this process, we collaboratively synthesized themes from groups of data points. These themes supported our process of insight generation.

One of our few data boards. Data points on yellow sticky notes synthesized into themes on blue sticky notes.

Sense-making Models

To ensure our insights accurately reflected the narratives of our participants, I created experience maps that reflected individual participants' stories. On these maps, I identified salient moments that aligned with specific insights we generated.

A draft of Participant 7's experience map. We sent these artifacts to our participants to ensure they accurately reflected their experiences.

These artifacts were extremely effective in helping our team iterate on our insights and in helping us keep the narratives of our participants central to all of our work. They also served the dual purpose of communication or sense-making tools for sharing our research with others!


insight 1

Teachers deeply impact student involvement and awareness of opportunities, but this form of informal investment is not extended to all students.

“I was one of the kids that was getting a lot of help. And, I mean, I was thankful, but also just like, help someone else because you already know that I'm fine. But that wasn't the case in my high school. They just love to help those who have potential not really those who need it.” (P7)

insight 2

Adolescent immigrants experience ongoing tension in the process of balancing cultural expectations from their family and their new host country.

“During middle and high school, there was a lot of tiptoeing around about what it meant to be American. Going from speaking English at school and coming home and transitioning to our native tongues was what I had to figure out and navigate.” (P2)

insight 3

Extracurricular involvement for adolescents is often prevented due to transportation issues or lack of parental approval.

“In middle school [it] was really hard to get my parents agreed on anything. Because they felt like we were super young. You had to fight to do things” (P3)

insight 4

Amidst new surroundings and culture in the U.S., immigrant parents find it difficult to weigh the safety risks of extracurriculars for their kids.

“My parents didn't want to stay after school. They didn't want me to go home late. Because there were scared that I would be kidnapped or something.” (P5)

insight 5

A parent’s trust in extracurricular programs depends on having an open dialogue with their child as well as with program facilitators.

“I was part of the student board and I stayed up to school a lot of times to do things. But that was only because I had a teacher that my parents really trusted.” (P3)

insight 6

Adolescent immigrants who have experienced growth through extracurriculars often strive to pass on those opportunities to others.

“Since I moved, I've always wanted to be helpful for anyone like me who’s been in like my case.” (P1)

insight 7

Mentors with similar cultural backgrounds can be inspiring to young immigrants, but exposure to these role models can be limited.

“I didn't have like a color mentor. It was a lot of white people looking out for me. I wish I had someone that looked like me.” (P7)

insight 8

Immigrant parents often lack cultural awareness that participation in after-school activities can be crucial for higher education preparation in the U.S.

“You don't get into college by just studying. My parents didn't understand that extracurricular activity is a part of it all. They're just like: all you need to do is study. Why are you doing volunteer activities? So how can you explain to people from Ethiopia that something like Key Club exists?” (P3)

insight 9

Adolescent immigrants adapt to new cultures and languages faster than adults, causing them to take on the extra, burdensome responsibilities of supporting their parents’ understanding.

“The young persons who are part of the two cultures are a great bridge between the two. They become the translator and the person who knows how things work.” (E4)


Design Opportunity Areas

Opportunity 1

Leverage the existing network of eager youth to cultivate connection and mentorship grounded in similar cultural backgrounds.

Opportunity 2

Support immigrant families’ understanding of the U.S. educational system and benefits of extracurricular involvement.

Opportunity 3

Empower adolescent immigrants to deliver trustworthy information regarding after-school programs to their parents.

moving forward

Stakeholder Workshop

Now we are moving into the design phase. Step one was hosting a participatory workshop with a group of the experts and participants we interviewed at ReWA. We presented our opportunity areas backed with data and quotes from our research. Then, we collaboratively ideated around each of the areas using the Crazy 8's method.


To empower caregiving networks to share, access, and manage medicinal information together.


Brainstorming 90 Ideas

We each proposed around thirty concepts using design methods including 2x2's and Crazy 8's. We met with a Premera rep to discuss the viability and desirability of these concepts which helped us narrow to our twenty best candidates.

Ideation & Prototyping

Check back later!