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On the path to language and learning career skills

Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

In 2019, Azike Tampi arrived in Waterloo. He had just left his home country of Togo in West Africa and moved to a community that he did not know using a language that he did not understand. Tampi, though, was undeterred by the barriers. He was determined to find a way to learn new skills and ensure his success in Iowa.

Enter Hawkeye Community College. As a part of their adult education curriculum, Tampi enrolled in an English Language Learning (ELL) course, which not only helped this 25-year-old native French speaker acquire necessary English skills, but also connected him with opportunities to shape his future career pathway.

“I wanted to learn English,” Tampi said. “My teacher, Emily, asked me what career I was interested in. I like helping people, so I chose nursing and took the CNA (certified nursing assistant) class.”

Through Hawkeye’s integrated education and training (IET) program, students like Tampi can pursue other career training while also completing adult education classes. Individuals who are enrolled in courses like ELL or High School Completion can greatly benefit from these concurrent opportunities.

“For the longest time, students would finish their High School Completion or ELL programs, but it wasn’t enough,” said Laura Hidlebaugh, director of adult education and literacy programs at Hawkeye Community College. “We really needed to provide them short-term training options and credentials to make them more employable in the field.”

IET programs allow adult learners, who often work full-time jobs, to save valuable time in their pursuit of career upskilling. Traditionally, students need to complete their adult education classes prior to enrolling in other courses, which can sometimes take months or longer. Through Hawkeye’s program, students can now simultaneously enroll in courses like commercial driver’s license (CDL), CNC machinery, construction, hospitality management and other in-demand career training while also earning their high school equivalency or ELL.

Individuals participating in IET programs are well-supported during their classes, too. Being enrolled in the two programs ensures students have at least two instructors who are working jointly to provide support and promote success. And through a mix of funding opportunities, including Gap Tuition Assistance and Pathways for Academic Career and Employment, most students at Hawkeye also do not have any tuition or out-of-pocket costs when enrolling in IET programs.

“Having this integrated model, especially for ELL students, is a huge benefit,” said Brandon Alves-Morgan, manager of ELL and family literacy at Hawkeye Community College. “Integrating career exploration and looking at next steps early helps eliminate some barriers that are typical for ELL students.”

Completion of an IET program can lead students directly into the workforce or into a guided pathway for further education and a potential degree. For Tampi, his completion of the IET CNA course directed him to other classes and a new career goal.

“I am in my second semester working towards an LPN (licensed practice nursing),” he said. “I want to start as an LPN and then go to school to get the RN (registered nurse) certification.”

IET programs provide valuable opportunities for adult learners to make significant career and life changes individually, and they can help strengthen Iowa’s workforce overall.

“We are really responsive to the local labor market,” Alves-Morgan said. “This gives us the unique ability, in a tight labor market, to connect with businesses and develop a class that meets their needs for a talent pipeline while also being responsive to what students are looking for in careers.”

Hawkeye started offering IET programming in 2015, using the state of Washington’s IBEST model. It was the first time the college had done any blending of credit and non-credit programs, and they did extensive work to see how admissions, financial aid, funding and other logistics fit together to provide quality experiences for their students. Over the years, Hawkeye has improved their operations, and they continue to expand into other career fields based on local labor needs and student demands. 

“One of the things I liked about adding the CDL class is that not only is it a big need in our community, it is also one that is student-driven,” Hidlebaugh said. “Students couldn’t afford to go to the regional transportation center on their own and didn’t have the language skills yet. This IET program was designed specifically for their needs.”

Whether IET students go directly into the workforce or onto other training and education, the experience they receive in the program introduces them to new opportunities for success within the community. Tampi says his own time in Hawkeye’s IET CNA and ELL classes has definitely been worthwhile, and he is grateful for the support.

“I am thankful,” he said. “Juggling work and school is a great challenge. I have learned a lot of things with Hawkeye by my side.”

For more information on Iowa’s adult education programs, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website.