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President’s EDGE program helps staff learn new skills, languages

President’s EDGE program helps staff learn new skills, languages

Kemper Rao is the program director for The President's EDGE. This program provides assistance with building résumés, earning a GED, learning basic Spanish, and more.

President’s EDGE program helps staff learn new skills, languages
November 07
14:56 2017

Learning is for everyone — not just the everyday UNT student.

A program at UNT is echoing that sentiment by giving staff a chance to pursue their own academic success.

The President’s Employee Directed General Education (EDGE) program helps UNT staff and faculty achieve their academic and personal goals.

The program, located at the North Texas Lofts, is researched and funded by UNT’s College of Education and paired with the president’s office on campus. It was launched in fall 2011 and was initially geared toward helping UNT employees earn their GEDs.

“It was seen to support the employees or the staff in helping them climb up the ladder,” director Kemper Rao said. “This was seen to give back to the staff and employees of the university.”

But ever since its launch, it has expanded its services offering assistance with English, conversational Spanish, ESL, computer skills, job searching and citizenship. Tutors said this started when they have seen more and more employees walk through the door seeking English classes.

“English was not their first language, and that’s when the program began to develop,” graduate assistant Ashley Whitted said.

The English class generally sets off the series of improvements and additions over the years. Whirred said it was just a matter of listening to the students and adjusting it to their needs.

“It’s not something we were originally meant to do, but we picked it up because it was something that we saw the public needed,” Whitted said.

There are currently five employees who come regularly, but Rao said many simply pop into the office to check out the program. In addition to English classes, President’s EDGE has just ended their five-week course on conversational Spanish.

“This past year, we had employees and staff, especially up in the admin, [saying], ‘It’s great that you’re teaching English but what about us? We want to learn Spanish,’” Rao said.

The schedule itself is specifically tailored to the staff. For those who cannot make it to classes during the weekdays, President’s EDGE opens its doors on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Custodial services employee Luz Suarez has been a part of the UNT staff for 17 years. She said these morning classes work with her untraditional schedule.

“The flexibility of the schedule is very good,” Suarez said. “Our work schedule is especially [busy] at night, [but] we can go [to the classes] anytime, so it’s really great.”

Suarez, who attends the Saturday sessions, said the schedule blends well with her schedule. Often, her work involves all-night shifts that end when the sun comes up. She is currently focused on computer skills.

“Initially, I was just exploring the computer, [but then] they were teaching me to [communicate on it] because I use it in my office inputting it in English, but don’t have very good skills on the computer,” Suarez said.

She finds joy in learning about new skills and techniques.

“They were teaching me icons and how to use [them] to practice,” Suarez said. “I think everything [about it] is interesting.”

Employees are also allowed to bring another family member to utilize the resources and tutoring at the center. With a growing range of options, Whitted said family members have consistently stopped by to work with them.

“This individual got this citizenship through us and when his nephew came to visit, his nephew came to us every single day for months just to learn English,” Whitted said.

The President’s EDGE team values the strong relationships they build with the students who come to them for help.

“We help people that may not have had the opportunities earlier in their life to get their GED and citizenship now and have people support them along the way,” Whitted said. “We build relationships with our students and that’s important to me—that we connect with these people and help them in any way we can.”

There are also others who seek assistance with citizenship paperwork.

“That can be such a daunting process to do alone,” Whitted said. “Even if all we can do is encourage these people and provide support to help people get their citizenship. I think that’s really cool.”

Rao said President’s EDGE is simply getting started. She envisions more involvement with the campus and its research.

“We have a lot more avenues we plan to go,” Rao said. “We’d like to incorporate many of the resources that there are on campus, including expertise from the department of linguistics and, of course, College of Education bilingual ESL.”

The staff members work day and night for UNT students. Rao hopes they will be able to connect and support them through the difficulties, even if it won’t completely focus on something else.

“We definitely are striving to make it a better environment and premier university for our students,” Rao said. “Very often, the staff and employees get overlooked. We look to give them a little bit of an edge.”

Featured Image: Kemper Rao is the program director for the President’s EDGE. This program provides assistance with building resumes, earning a GED, learning basic Spanish and more. Mallory Cammarata

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Amy Roh

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