UMC Links

First Cohort of Community-Based Latino Students to Graduate from University’s English Language Institute

June 29, 2005 — Many immigrants come to Utah with knowledge and strong job skills, but lack fluency in the English language. Not speaking and writing the language well severely limits opportunities for employment and educational advancement. That is why the University of Utah’s English Language Institute (ELI), within the U’s division of Continuing Education, and Zions Bank teamed up earlier this year to offer community-based English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction for graduates of local public school ESL programs who desired advanced training.

On Thursday, June 30, the first cohort of 14 students will graduate from ELI, which was the first language school in Utah to be accredited by the Commission on English Program Accreditation and was among the first 20 to be accredited in the United States. Beginning at 7 p.m., a celebration ceremony will be held at Zions Bank Su Banco, located at 1635 S. Redwood Road, in Salt Lake City, where the students have been meeting four nights a week for the past four months.

David W. Pershing, U of U senior vice president for academic affairs, will officiate at Thursday night’s graduation ceremony. ELI instructor Rick Van De Graaff will speak, as will students Luzmila Zepeda and J. Gregory Cantor. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO, will offer brief remarks and Theresa A. Martinez, associate dean of undergraduate studies for outreach at the University, will be on hand to congratulate the students and hand out completion certificates.

Van De Graaff, who has taught language classes for the past two decades, notes his ELI students are “well-educated, observant, inquisitive and motivated, most with college degrees from their own countries. They are already working and ‘successful’ and many already own their own houses. They are pursuing the American dream.

“We have been focusing on academic English,” Van De Graaff explains. “So we are reading, evaluating and discussing research and articles that appear in journals-college-level reading, writing, and vocabulary development.” The students learn skills required for the workplace, professional occupations and financial literacy.

All of the students-except one who is Armenian and grew up in Russia-are Latino, having immigrated from Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Honduras and Nicaragua. Taking the advanced class for these six men and eight women required passing a competency test and paying a nominal fee. Each student received a substantial Zions Bank-ELI Scholarship, making the classes affordable. The scholarship included 16 weeks of training, books and materials, an instructor and the cost of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam, a language competency test for admission into the University. “Receiving the scholarship is a huge opportunity for these students. For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Van De Graaff, adding that over the four-month period his class took field trips to the U and learned about its many resources.

Zions Bank and the University evenly underwrote the Su Banco ELI project, developed by Anderson and Martinez to address the unmet need for advanced language training for adult learners. Because of the program’s early success, Zions Bank has announced it also plans to fund scholarships for adults taking basic-level ESL classes at Snow College, Dixie State College and Boise State University during the 2005-2006 academic year.

“We believe this new program and our scholarships will contribute to greater economic opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinos, increasing the overall wealth in the Utah Latino community,” says Anderson.

Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University, notes that the Zions Bank ELI scholarship program is a thoughtful investment in the burgeoning local Latino community. “Assisting these students in acquiring necessary language proficiency empowers them to advance professionally, which is beneficial for them, the economy and the state of Utah,” she says.

ELI offers seven levels of proficiency for ESL. For eligibility requirements, or for more information on ELI scholarships for fall semester, call 801-581-4600 or visit