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College Program Builds an On-Ramp to Jobs for Immigrants.

WATERLOO, Iowa -- When Sabira Keric arrived in Iowa nine months ago, she was a refugee with minimal English skills and few job prospects.

The 22-year-old woman came to Waterloo with her parents and brother from Germany, where they had spent seven years after fleeing the war in Bosnia. The family was drawn to the area by Keric's sister, Emira, who had made the journey here two months earlier.

Keric now works at the Friendship Village Retirement Community as a certified nurse's aide. "I dress, wash people, help them to eat, take them to the dining room," she said. "If someone needs help, I help change their clothes."

The only hint Keric is a recent immigrant is the accented English she speaks while helping residents. She enjoys the work and sees the job as a stepping stone to her ultimate goal -- working as a licensed practical nurse. She hopes someday to work in one of the area's hospitals.

It was a new program combining certified nurse's aide training and English-as-a-second-language instruction at Hawkeye Community College that helped Keric get a jump on her career. In September, Keric and her sister signed up for the class.

The next month, they started jobs as environmental aides at Friendship Village. Environmental aides help CNAs and the housekeeping staff. They work in the dining room, do laundry, make beds and clean up after residents.

Although the two wouldn't finish their training until December, the retirement home hired them with the understanding that they would be promoted to certified nurse's aides upon passing the state exam. The facility even covered the costs of the HCC program.

"We're actually lucky that they've come to work," said Susan Barnett-Milligan, Friendship Village's social services director, noting that the Bosnian employees have helped stem a shortage in nurse aides. "We're doing very well because they're helping us."

It was concern over a shortage in nurse aides that got Hawkeye officials thinking about pairing English instruction with CNA training two years ago. The combination seemed to make sense, given the influx of Bosnian immigrants seeking jobs here.

"There's a real shortage of nurse aides across the state," said Carol Steckelberg, HCC's coordinator for workplace basic skills. "This could satisfy that need if we get more people through this."

The idea was so unique that HCC received a state grant to put the components together in a pilot program. The course intersperses 60 hours of English instruction with 80 hours of the college's nurse aide program. After students pass the classes' final exams, they receive an English certificate and are ready to take the state nurse's aide test.

All 11 of those women passed the state exam and did it on their first attempt. "So we feel like we've got the system figured out," said Steckelberg.

It took some tinkering, though. Those who developed the course made changes as they ran into unanticipated difficulties working with the immigrants.

Mary McGeough, HCC's nurse aide coordinator, said the instructors had to add hours to the initial course, develop practice tests and move more slowly through the material than they did with a regular class. "We don't use the textbook with this class," she noted. "It's much better to do it more of a hands-on learning."

Efforts also were made to remove financial barriers that would stop students from signing up for the class. Six of the 11 students had at least some of their costs for tuition, books, state exams, inoculations and a physical covered through Hawkeye Workforce Development. The agency was able to provide aid to those who were unemployed or had a part-time job through funding to provide short-term training for refugees and immigrants.

Then there was the support the program received from Friendship Village. Along with the arrangement the Keric sisters benefited from, the retirement home served as a site at which students could be clinically trained. The home even trained two Bosnian CNAs as mentors to help the new recruits learn their jobs.

"It's just a great stepping stone for them to get some entry level skills and keep going," Steckelberg said. Many of the students in the most recent class plan to continue their education with the HCC's advanced nurse's aide class, which focuses on hospital and acute care.

That is Keric's plan. She will continue working at Friendship Village while continuing her training. From there, she may go through training to become a licensed practical nurse.

"It's just a real success story for these students," said Steckelberg.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:WIND, ANDREW
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 19, 2001
Words:749
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