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English Language Institute Graduation Means “Feliz Navidad” for Adult Latinos

December 4, 2006 — Local adult Latinos are receiving a valuable Christmas present this year – the gift of English language. For months, they have been meeting Mondays through Thursdays for two hours each night for intensive English as Second Language classes sponsored by Zions Bank Su Banco in partnership with the University of Utah’s English Language Institute (ELI).

On Monday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m., 19 students will graduate from the advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) program before a large crowd of proud relatives. Their achievement makes it possible for them to aspire to professional occupations or to university education. The 40-minute commencement ceremony will take place at the University of Utah’s Olpin Union Ballroom, 200 S. Campus Dr. in Salt Lake City. Relatives of the graduates as well as students in another ELI class will be in attendance.

The graduation ceremony will be officiated by University of Utah President Michael Young, who will be available for interview following the ceremony. Student speakers also available for interviews will be Vanessa Matassini, a previous ELI graduate now attending the university, and current graduates Maria del Rocio Arias Cuevas and Ricardo Rusca Alegre.

Additional commencement speakers will include Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, ELI director Valentina Inozemtseva, ELI professor Rick Van De Graaff, and Dr. Theresa A. Martinez, Assistant Vice President for Academic Outreach at the University of Utah and a member of the Board of Directors of Zions Bank.

Students participating in the Su Banco ELI initiative received full scholarships for the program, funded by a one-to-one match between Zions Bank and the University of Utah. Some graduates of past ELI classes have been hired by Zions Bank after achieving greater English language proficiency.

While several ESL classes offered for adults in the Salt Lake Valley provide basic level “survival English,” the Zions Bank-ELI program provides advanced English language training for Spanish-speaking Latinos who are graduates of ESL programs in the state of Utah and who are seeking to enhance their English language skills and employment opportunities. The English Language Institute at the University of Utah is part of the division of Continuing Education, offering seven levels of English language proficiency for ESL students.

“Zions Bank congratulates the students graduating from Su Banco’s educational cohort program, and we wish them the best as they pursue professional careers,” Anderson said. “We believe this program and our scholarships will contribute to greater economic opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinos, increasing the overall wealth in the Utah Latino community.”

Dr. Martinez said the scholarship program will have a lasting impact on Latino families. “Zions Bank’s support for advanced English language training will impact Spanish-speaking Latinos, enabling them to seek better economic opportunities for their families. Moreover, their children, who will later make up a major part of Utah’s labor force, will benefit immeasurably from their parents’ enhanced language skills creating a cycle of learning and growth.”

Dr. Martinez also said that providing a solid educational background for Latinos was in Utah’s best interest. “As we face this new century of Latino population growth both in Utah and the nation, it is essential that forward thinking people consider this growth and our own labor force needs as we help to nurture professionally skilled Latinos in the state.”