At U.Va., Getting an Education Applies to Employees, Not Just Students

July 18, 2011 — University of Virginia employees come from all walks of life, but for some, the goal of education was interrupted.

Others come from foreign countries and are trying to make the transition to living in the United States.

All of these individuals have the opportunity at U.Va. to pursue the academic foundation they never had, to develop a love of learning or cultivate better chances to succeed in life. Hundreds of employees have used the benefit since it was instituted almost 10 years ago.

Since 2002, the University has contracted with Charlottesville's Adult Learning Center to deliver General Educational Development classes toward a GED certificate. The center provides the instructors and the materials, and U.Va. pays the fees. Also offered are classes in English as a second language, or ESL, for non-native speakers.

In an occasional series, U.Va. Today will highlight 10 employees who have taken advantage of the opportunity. (See their stories, below.)

Elizabeth "Betty" Wooding, Facilities Management information officer, helped in bringing the education programs to the Grounds.

"Several years ago, I called the state Department of Education about some promotional material on their 'Race to GED' program, because it had NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler as a spokesperson and some cool NASCAR-logos on the promotional materials," she said.

The state recommended she contact Susan Erno and Kathy Garrou of the Adult Learning Center, and the two met with the human resources training coordinator in Facilities Management.  
"We were already sending some employees to GED classes at the city's location, but that was causing problems with work schedules and travel time and costs," Wooding said. "The GED teachers agreed to teach classes on site. Susan then suggested that ESL be offered, too.

"It was really a concerted effort by the human resources and training staff," she said.

U.Va. Human Resources sponsors the programs with strong support from Facilities Management and a "terrific partnership," with the Adult Learning Center, said Bryan Garey, director of employee development.

The courses are offered on Grounds and during work hours – a big plus, said Erno, the Adult Learning Center's program coordinator. Describing the U.Va. employees as "bright and motivated," she said their class attendance is probably better because of the University's support.

The GED program is a "valid credential" that nearly all businesses, colleges and universities recognize, Erno said. "It means something, but it means even more to the learners, because people come to it on their own and work at it on their own."

"GED participants work at their own pace," said Bridget "Brydie" Ragan, Facilities Management training coordinator. "ESL participants attend classes until they have reached a level of proficiency that is acceptable to them, or they are fluent enough to move into GED classes. It is particularly exciting when an employee starts out in ESL with minimal English language skills and then later earns a GED."

GED classes cover five areas: literature, writing, math, social studies and science. "Across the board, math is the hardest," Erno said. "For some, it is like a new language." The math proficiency exam is tested periodically on high-school graduates, and 40 percent of them don't pass it, she said.

The second-most difficult is the writing test, in which the GED students have to write an essay on an assigned topic in 45 minutes.

The Regional Literacy Coordinating Committee holds an essay competition every year for adult learners. The winning essays and honorable mentions are published in an annual "Voices of Adult Learners" booklet, and the winners are invited to read at the Virginia Festival of the Book each spring.

The U.Va. employees are also celebrated on Grounds. This year, eight employees won or received honorable mention among the 47 individuals whose essays were published. Approximately 150 people submitted their work. All of the essays are published online.

"Each year we have events on Grounds to showcase the 'Voices' essays," Ragan said. "Having the events here gives Facilities Management supervisors, managers and others a convenient opportunity to attend."  Susan Carkeek, U.Va. vice president and chief human resources officer, attended the GED and the ESL 'Voices' events."

"It's part of HR's mission to create a rich employee experience and to cultivate lifelong learning for all U.Va. staff," Garey said.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications