Aug. 23, 2006 — As their kids head back to school, 18 local adults are graduating from an advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) program, which makes it possible for them to aspire to professional occupations or to university education. Since January, the students have been meeting Mondays through Thursdays for two hours each night for intensive classes sponsored by Zions Bank Su Banco in partnership with the University of Utah’s English Language Institute (ELI).
On Thursday, August 24, at 7 p.m., ELI graduates will participate in a 40-minute commencement ceremony at the University of Utah”s Union Ballroom before a large crowd of proud relatives.
The graduation ceremony will be officiated by University of Utah Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, David W. Pershing. It will feature speeches by ELI instructor, Rick Van de Graaff, and five students, including Juan Calzado. A native of Veracruz, Mexico, Calzado studied computer engineering and later was a small business owner in his home country. He moved to Utah in January 2004 and currently works as a framing carpenter for a construction company. He hopes his improved language proficiency will lead to a better job and more income for his family.
In addition, Maria Fernanda Gomez will speak about her experiences in the ELI program. She attended law school in Venezula, and now plans to apply to law school in the U.S.
“Thanks to this English program I feel I could reach the skies,” she said. “If you want to be part of this community, you have to understand this culture through the language. I think that is the first step to reach your goals.”
Additional commencement speakers will include Zions Bank President and CEO, Scott Anderson, 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. ELI is ranked in the top twenty language institutes in the United States.
“Zions Bank congratulates these dedicated ELI students, 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. “The U of U program, with 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.”