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Immigrants Seeking to Improve Their Lives Graduate from Intensive English Language Course at U of U

April 13, 2009 – Local adult immigrants are graduating from a rigorous advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) program which makes it possible for them to aspire to professional occupations or to university studies. Since January, they have met Monday through Thursday for two hours each night for intensive English classes sponsored by Zions Bank in partnership with the University of Utah’s English Language Institute (ELI).

On Tuesday, April 14, at 7 p.m., 22 students will graduate from the advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) program before a large crowd of proud relatives. The one-hour commencement ceremony will take place in the Saltair Room of the University’s Olpin Union, 200 S. Campus Dr. Relatives of the graduates as well as students in another ELI class will be in attendance.

The graduation ceremony will be officiated by U of U Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David W. Pershing. Student speakers available for interviews will be Lorena Escalante, Ericka Hurst, Carlos Padilla and Brenda Urdiales.

Additional commencement speakers will include Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO; Rick Van De Graaff, ELI professor; and Dr. Theresa A. Martinez, U of U assistant vice president for academic outreach.

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 U of U. Some graduates of past ELI classes have been hired by Zions Bank after achieving greater English language proficiency. To date, twelve such courses have helped nearly 200 individuals gain greater language proficiency.

“At the beginning of this class, I felt very nervous, because I saw people with a lot of knowledge about this language and I thought ‘I am in wrong place,’ but over the course of days, my ears could understand more when the people talk. I am learning to read and comprehend lectures and understand synonyms,” said Claudia Ruiz, an ELI student from Colombia. “I know that this is the beginning to learn English and to stop feeling insecure and afraid when people talk to me.”

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 ELI the U is part of the division of Continuing Education, offering seven levels of English language proficiency for ESL students.

“Zions Bank believes this program and our scholarships will contribute to greater economic opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinos, increasing the overall wealth in the Utah Latino community,” Anderson said.

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.”

Zions Bank is Utah’s oldest financial institution and is the only local bank with a statewide distribution of branches, operating 103 full-service branches throughout Utah. Zions Bank also operates 25 full-service branches in Idaho. In addition to offering a wide range of traditional banking services, Zions Bank is also a leader in small business lending and has ranked as the No. 1 lender of U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) loans in Utah for the past 15 consecutive years. Founded in 1873, Zions has been serving the communities of Utah for 135 years. Additional information is available at