With the goal of creating unique opportunities for its employees to better themselves and succeed, Marymount University collaborated with the Falls Church-based English Empowerment Center (EEC) to establish a new initiative that allows members of the institution’s Housekeeping and Dining Services teams – for whom English is not their native language – to learn English in a safe and engaging environment.
Initial English classes for participating University staff began earlier this Spring 2023 semester, with an inaugural cohort of 12 students. English Empowerment Center, the oldest and largest literacy organization in Virginia, is dedicated to teaching adults the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking and understanding English in order to access employment and educational opportunities and more fully and equitably participate in the community. The organization has served more than 60,000 learners over its 60-year history.
The idea for the partnership began about a year ago in April 2022, when Marymount University President Irma Becerra met with EEC’s volunteer and outreach manager, Amy Tristan, who shared details about the organization’s Destination Workforce program. More recently, Marymount’s Assistant Vice President for Campus Services, Paul Easton, and Assistant Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Operations, Oñyel Bhola, worked with EEC to offer an on-campus space at Marymount for English classes, removing an additional barrier to access for participants.
“Marymount’s leadership team is fully committed to fostering an inclusive environment where we can all communicate effectively to work together,” President Becerra said. “Our new partnership with EEC demonstrates how this University is a great place to work, with numerous opportunities for growth personally and professionally. We are also incredibly proud of the members in our inaugural class who made the choice to change their lives for the better!”
“It is rewarding to collaborate with an organization that helps us support the development of our Marymount staff and foster connection and communication between those who speak English fluently and those who did not previously,” added Barry Harte, Vice President for Finance and Operations & Treasurer at Marymount University. “We are eager to see the talented and hard-working employees in Marymount’s Housekeeping and Dining Services departments thrive and grow professionally.”
EEC instructional designer manager, Soo Park, worked with direct supervisors at Marymount to construct an overall curriculum that is customized with vocabulary for the daily interactions that staff members experience each day on campus. During the two-hour classes, participants learn through various techniques that include workbooks, photographs, games and props while focusing on conversation basics such as simple greetings, discussions about the calendar, weather and talking about their families. They also spend half of each class learning job-specific language, such as talking about their job responsibilities and tools for work and giving instructions on job tasks.
EEC’s class instructor, Jennifer Hine, has over 35 years of teaching experience in the role. With the help of instructional aides Leo Dillon, Oana Antony and George Rovder, she seeks to create an open and collaborative space for participants to learn and improve upon their English skills.
“When we first started, it was quite hard as they do differ on the amount of English they knew initially,” Hine explained. “But now, they are definitely more confident, using more language skills and very eager to learn. They also have been so dedicated throughout the process.”
The majority of participants responded positively in a recent survey, stating that the classes have helped them provide excellent customer service and improve their overall communications within their jobs at Marymount.
“We’ve seen significant improvements in confidence in their language skills, and I think the goal one day is that they will be confident enough in their skills to enroll in other classes here and be official Marymount students,” Easton said.
The class, which meets in St. Joseph’s Hall at Marymount on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-3 pm in order to accommodate employees from both the first and second shifts, is in session until April 6, 2023.