Synergy Texas is a network of adult education and literacy (AEL) providers working to address academic and employment barriers for internationally trained professionals in Texas. Brought together in 2019 through WES Global Talent Bridge’s Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP), Synergy Texas’ network includes community college educators and administrators, adult education providers, and other immigrant and refugee support-service providers. Collaborating to identify and address how to better serve internationally trained professionals (ITPs), they established a mission to develop and provide resources to support internationally trained professionals and those who assist them.
In 2022, Synergy Texas was selected to participate in the inaugural SIIP Demonstration Opportunity. As part of the partnership, they received customized technical assistance, financial assistance, access to a robust community of practice, and program development support. Their SIIP Demonstration project‘s purpose was twofold: to develop a series of webinar trainings for supporting ITPs and to design a conference strand for the Texas Association for Literacy and Adult Education (TALAE) Conference 2023. The resulting seven webinars covered topics such as intake protocols, contextualized programming, career pathways, and employer engagement. Synergy Texas’ TALAE Conference strand focused on best practices for supporting ITPs.
Expertise From a Diverse Partner Network
For the conference sessions, Synergy Texas invited subject-matter experts from SIIP’s national network of partners. Tadd Wamester of EnGen, Anson Green of Tyson Foods, Emmanuel Owusu of African Bridge Network, John Hunt of LaGuardia Community College’s NYC Welcome Back Center, and Chelsie Kramer of American Immigration Council agreed to participate, as well as WES Global Talent Bridge’s Katherine Gebremedhin and Leticia Farrera.
“The buzz around Synergy and serving ITPs was all we heard at the conference; so many programs are hungry for these resources and training.”—Denise Orand, president of TALAE, Adult Education Grants at San Jacinto College, and member of Synergy Texas
Synergy Texas’ TALAE Conference strand demonstrated the pivotal role adult education resources and providers play in helping internationally trained workers achieve their career goals in the U.S. Restore Education’s Kelli and Kerri Rhodes opened the conference with an introduction to the Synergy Texas network, the resources they’ve developed, and additional resources the network offers. In “ITP Services and Support for Local Programs,” Tadd Wamester discussed the importance of contextualized English language learning (ELL), highlighting EnGen’s online ELL platform, which personalizes and contextualizes content for every English learner. Leticia Farrera highlighted online WES resources for international students, immigrants, and refugees, including the iGPA calculator and the Career Pathways platform. For the second session, “Best Practices in Employer Engagement,” Anson Green led a lively session about why and how adult education practitioners should engage employers to expand their programming and best support their students.
Model Programs With Proven Success
The strand also provided successful program models and services developed specifically to support ITPs. In “Comprehensive Integration Approach to Bridge Gaps for Immigrant Professionals,” Emmanuel Owusu provided an overview of the professional networking, fellowships, mentorship, and wraparound career navigation programs developed by African Bridge Network to support commensurate employment opportunities for internationally trained workers in Massachusetts. The “Leveraging Data and Understanding Credential Recognition” session, jointly hosted by Chelsie Kramer and Katherine Gebremedhin, showcased American Immigration Council’s state and local data tools, such as Map the Impact, and WES’ Gateway Program—for which Restore Education, a Synergy Texas member, is a referral partner. In the strand’s final session on “Health Care Certification and Alternative Careers for Second Language Learners and Internationally Trained Professionals,” John Hunt described LaGuardia Community College’s Integrated Education and Training (IET) programming, case management, and referral services for ELL students navigating health care certification and alternative career pathways.
Synergy Texas continued to support service providers and elevate the voice of ITPs by providing sessions for TOEFL preparation, ITP case management, and an ITP student panel. In their day-long session, “Tackling the TOEFL,” Synergy Texas provided hands-on strategies for preparing ITPs to pass all aspects of the TOEFL exam which is a common exam needed for ITPs to enter additional schooling or other professions. In a two-part session called “ITP Case Management,” Lisa Carlo of Austin Community College, and Rosa I. Tapia and Kerri Rhodes of Restore Education gave participants tools and resources for a tiered approach for case management for ITPs at varying language levels. Lastly, their student panel highlighted the journeys of ITPs that have participated in their programs and successfully fulfilling career opportunities. The panel’s Betina Watkins, a former participant in the program who now works as an adult education instructor at Austin Community College, discussed the impact of this work. “I am seen for my abilities and my time is not being wasted. [At the time] I felt, ‘no one is seeing my abilities. No one is seeing what I can do.’ Nobody was advising me the right way until I arrived to the ITP course. Now I am thriving with wisdom and passion [in my new role as an instructor],” she said.
Furthering Efforts and Planning Ahead
The enthusiasm and high attendance rates at Synergy Texas’ 2023 TALAE Conference strand sessions demonstrate the interest that adult education practitioners, non-profit organizations, and state and local officials have in tailoring services and developing contextualized workforce development programs for internationally trained workers across Texas. In amplifying best practices, Synergy Texas helps providers build upon the programming and services already in the state. As Synergy Texas continues its work with the SIIP Demonstration Opportunity, the network will focus their efforts on updating their online catalog of resources, as well as increasing employer engagement, network growth, and long-term program sustainability.