Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

Exploring Immigrant Narratives, Innovative Program Approaches, and Digital Inclusion at the 2023 COABE Conference

Monday June 26, 2023 | by Stefanie Vasquez

Six adults pose for group shot in front of COABE 2023 conference banner.

Mariam, originally from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, had a dream of working as a fashion designer. After moving to Atlanta with her husband in 2016, she graduated from MyCity ATL, a program that empowers immigrants and refugees through engagement sessions with city agencies. In 2019, Mariam met Valerie Mills, the senior manager of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs. Valerie helped her join a cohort of Women Export University, a capacity-building project led jointly by the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs and the United Parcel Service. Mariam graduated in 2021, and now her fashion business is growing thanks to the support she received, which gave her the tools she needed to bring her talent to fruition.

Read more about MyCity ATL’s work in our blogpost, “Spotlight on Atlanta: How a Thriving Partnership is Transforming Communities.”

Mariam shared her story at this year’s Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) National Conference, where she spoke in a session on supporting the economic inclusion of immigrants and refugees. The 2023 COABE Conference brought together almost 2,500 adult education professionals, advocates, and other stakeholders to learn about innovative approaches to support all adult education students and to discuss the future of adult education.

Woman dressed in bright colors presenting at a conference in front of a projection.

Mariam shares her experiences at the 2023 COABE Conference.

For practitioners and advocates who work with adult English language learner (ELL) students, the conference offered some key takeaways:

  • New tools and initiatives offer greater opportunities for contextualized English programming. According to EnGen’s Tadd Wamester and Christine Wells, contextualized programs such as pre-apprenticeships can successfully incorporate education and professional training to upskill ELL students for career success. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) presented on one such contextualized initiative called the Enhancing Access for Refugees and New Americans (EARN) project, which supports Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education (IELCE) implementation.
  • Demand for resources to support adult ELL students is strong. English language learners account for more than 40% of students who are served by adult basic education programs. The speakers at this year’s COABE conference provided resources on new CASAS levels (descriptors indicating general job-related competency in reading, mathematics, oral communication, and writing), industry partnerships, cultural humility, and strategies toward more inclusion and belonging. For instance,  Rishan Habte, program officer for economic empowerment at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), and Ahu Moser, adult education program specialist for the Maryland Department of Labor, discussed the specific education and career needs of refugees and asylees. They also provided guidance on how adult education centers can connect students with refugee services and how WIOA-funded IELCE and IET programs can help address the career and education demands of these learners.
  • ChatGPT and other digital tools open opportunities for ELL students. A conference panel discussion on ChatGPT included a presentation on World Education’s Transforming Immigrant Digital Equity (TIDE) project. The speakers discussed the rapid development of AI in education and its impact on adult education. In one session, Anson Green from Tyson Foods, Sarah Cacicio from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Advocacy, and Rachel Riggs from EnGen emphasized the importance of teaching digital skills to support ELL adults in the workplace. The session covered digital literacy, technological upskilling, and the potential for AI to simplify instructions for ELL students.
  • The voices of immigrant and refugee adult learners are critical to promoting change. Student voices were prominent at this year’s conference, as attendees discussed the power of storytelling to amplify the experiences of immigrants and refugees. Wesley Garvin, president and CEO of STAND International—and a graduate of an adult education program himself—emphasized the importance of students sharing their stories to advocate for themselves and their peers.

Next year’s COABE conference, “Adult Education: Together in Harmony,” will feature more insight and targeted training from national level speakers.


WES Global Talent Bridge’s recent guide, “How Adult Educators Can Support Internationally Educated Immigrants and Refugees,” offers valuable insights, practical strategies, and best practices for adult educators. If you are a teacher, program director, or other practitioner supporting internationally trained immigrants and refugees, check out our resource page for fact sheets, policy briefs, and toolkits from WES Global Talent Bridge and WES partners.


Feature Image: From left to right: Valerie Mills, Senior Manager, City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs ; Debra Means-West, Director for Resource and Network Development, WES Global Talent Bridge; Stefanie Vasquez, Program Manager, Resource and Content Development, WES Global Talent Bridge; Leticia Farrera, Skilled Immigrant Integration Program Manager, WES Global Talent Bridge; Elizabeth Moya, Technical Assistance Consultant, American Institutes of Research; Rebecca Murphy, Founder and Director, Future Study International; Irene Yates, Adult Learning and Career Advancement Coordinator, Kentucky Office for Refugees. WES was a conference sponsor, and Mills and Means-West led a panel on the economic inclusion of refugees.

Stefanie Vasquez is the Resource Development and Content Manager at WES Global Talent Bridge.