Sarah Hillyer is the co-founder of Sport 4 Peace, an organization promoting peace worldwide by giving women and girls access to sports.
She is also a UT professor who teaches a class called Community and Service learning. The class brings together UT students in Sport Management with Iraqi refugee families living in Knoxville, Tenn.
This is the first year Hillyer and professor Ashleigh Huffman are teaching this interactive class at UT which they developed together.
"It was sort of a natural connection for me to take my passion for the Middle East and the people and the way we view sport and combine that with education and to share that opportunity with our students," said Hillyer.
By engaging in activities and sports together, Hillyer and Huffman believe the Iraqi families will have a smoother transition to life in America with the help of UT students.
"Refugees face tremendous physical, mental, emotional and psychological hardships when they leave their home country," said Hillyer. "Sport is a cost-effective and meaningful way to help families make the transition into new communities."
Of the 120 Iraqi refugee families living in Knoxville, most have come to the United States for safety, education or due to loss of family.
"Most of the families have come because of safety concerns or loss of family members, so they wanted to leave in order to give their children a safer life and chance for quality education," said Hillyer.
"They come to a country where oftentimes they don't speak the language, their professional skills and academic accomplishments don't "transfer," they are lonely, and usually have various health-related problems."
Students like senior in Sport Management Mary Rose Petersen said the class is like no other at UT because of the direct interaction between students and the refugee families.
"This experience has opened my eyes to the need to help others. I have been able to do hands on work with these amazing individuals. It's more interactive than a typical class of just listening to a professor talk for an hour," said Petersen.
Of Hillyer's many accomplishments outside of UT, running the first ever overnight sports camp for Israeli and Palestinian girls is on the top of her list.
"I ran Sport for Life Peace Camp, an all-girls sports camp for Arab and Jewish girls. Nearly 40 teenage girls spent one week together playing different sports and participating in conflict resolution and peace building activities. It was amazing to see how the girls began to see the 'other' as friends rather than enemies," said Hillyer.
Hillyer has traveled to numerous countries for her work in the Middle East and abroad including nine visits to Iran, four to Israel, three to Iraq and 14 visits to China.
Hillyer was named "Woman of the Year" in 2009 for her work worldwide by Eva Magazine.