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Workplace English graduates honored at MAC Board meeting

The first Workforce English students to graduate from the program since before the COVID-19 pandemic were honored at the MAC Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday (Jan. 17).

The 14 graduates of the 14-week course included Hirut Tessema, who emigrated from Ethiopia to the U.S. in 2012 and now works at the recently opened Starbucks on the G Concourse at MSP Airport's Terminal 1.

"I enrolled in the course because I want to change my life," said Hirut (in the turqoise-colored shirt at right). "I like school and I love to learn new things."

That includes learning at Starbucks where she looks forward to opening the fresh shipments of coffee to sample the different varieties. Coffee originated in Ethiopia and it is the country's largest export and plays an important role in its culture.

The Workforce English program at the MAC began in 2018 and is coordinated through the Customer Service Action Council's Jobs Committee to help improve the customer experience for travelers. Many of the students – like Hirut – are recent immigrants to the United States who work in retail, restaurant or commercial jobs at MSP.

The focus is on the MSP Nice program, customer service, communication between coworkers and managers, and computer skills.

There is no cost to students in the program, which is taught through the St. Paul Public Schools Adult Basic Education Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning. Volunteers from the Airport Foundation MSP serve as teaching assistants.

To date, five Workplace English sessions have been held at MSP (not including the two that were canceled during the pandemic). The average number of attendees is 12, although one class had 31 students.

The recently completed class was the first to offer hybrid sessions where students could attend class in person or virtually using iPads loaned by St. Paul Public Schools. Hirut is unsure what her next educational step will be but definitely wants to continue.

"I don't want to stop school," she says.

The next workplace English course is tentatively scheduled for this spring.