Community partners and Ivy Tech provide training for local refugees, celebrate scholar program success

Several community partners have quickly turned an idea into a success that’s producing contributing members of our local economy. The Ivy Tech Refugee Scholar Program, which officially began this spring, celebrated its first 11 students who have completed coursework toward earning a certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN). Each individual earned 15 college credits and will take the state examination Tuesday in order to begin a medical career as a CNA. At a recent completion celebration, the graduates (from Burma, Congo, and Vietnam) tearfully s hared their deep gratitude for this program, their difficult person al journeys, and their joy at their accomplishments.

Sanda Marlow, originally from Myanmar (formerly Burma), was part of the first group of students to complete coursework. Her family still lives overseas, so she is here mostly alone in northeast Indiana. “It will improve my future a lot,” Marlow says, and she laughs. “It will be a very good help for me because I am a zero now, so at least I can become a hero after (training).”

In December 2013, several community partners announced the launch of Ivy Tech’s Refugee Scholar Program, which officially began this spring. Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, Catherine Kasper Place, St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, Fort Wayne – Allen County Department of Health, Indiana Family & Social Services Administration, Parkview Health, and St. Anne’s Home all teamed up to establish better career pathways for refugees out of poverty and into the workforce. Some students will stop after receiving their certificate, Chenoweth says, while others will want to continue on and become a nurse.

“At the same time while they are using their language skills, they are learning a healthcare profession,” says Cindy Chenoweth, program chair of Health Care Support. “Once they receive their certification, maybe they will be able to go out and find employment.”

“Our hope is for current refugee funding to stay in place. In addition to the CAN Health Careers program, Ivy Tech Northeast would like to offer a Refugee Scholars Program for manufacturing, specific training for CNC operators,” says Ivy Tech Northeast Chancellor Jerrilee K. Mosier. “This program addition would help address a significant need in the workforce for the local manufacturing community. “

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement through Indiana’s Family & Social Services Administration has provided a $250,000 contract to educate refugees who have been in the country at least six months and less than five years in trades for which they might be employable within twelve months. The contract is officially under a supported ministry of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, Catherine Kasper Place, and the Foundation staff manages this program. The contract is effective October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.  The model chosen is based on the nationally recognized I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program which Ivy Tech Community College Northeast Chancellor Jerrilee K. Mosier, Ed.D., has experience in developing in the state of Washington.

“The refugee scholar program offers newly arriving refugees the chance to participate in training and education that not only creates economic stability for themselves and their family, but also helps to diversify our healthcare workforce,” says Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan, MD. “When an individual moves up the education and employment ladder, our community moves up as well.”

On Friday, July 25, the second cohort of five students from Haiti, Burma and Congo will graduate. The special ceremony will take place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Ivy Tech’s Coliseum Campus (3800 N. Anthony Blvd., Fort Wayne) in Room 1640.  A third cohort is being offered to six students in Indianapolis from Burma, Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan.   These students are scheduled to take the CNA examination on August 12.

“Plans are to continue the Ivy Tech Refugee Scholars into the 2014-15 academic year,” says Cindy Chenoweth, program coordinator. “The CNA refugee scholars will again be offered, as it provides an effective pathway into health careers and addresses a local need for more certified nursing assistants.”

The largest threat facing this program is the recent redirecting of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement funds from proven refugee resettlement strategies to the unaccompanied minors at the border.  Recently, 58 percent of all federal refugee funds for the upcoming year have been cut and re-directed to address the needs of unaccompanied minors.  Programs like the Ivy Tech Refugee Scholars are at risk, even though they are effectively putting people into the local labor force.


  • Classes take place at the Parkview Hospital Randallia campus to allow program participants to become familiar and comfortable in a potential work, healthcare environment.
  • Parkview’s Extended Care and St. Anne’s Nursing Home provide clinical practicum and exposure to the actual work.
  • An August Job Fair will assist with job placement upon successful training completion.
  • Program participants have to pass a language assessment to assure proficiency at a level, which will allow successful course completion and job readiness.
  • Participants may be anyone 16 years or older who meet the definition of a refugee having been in the country between 6 months and 5 years.  Recruitment will come from all parts of the community (and in Indianapolis for one session).  This is not limited to high school students and/or Burmese refugees.
  • 100 percent of the costs for training are covered including all books, curriculum fees, uniforms, and related supplies.
  • Up to 36 refugees (inclusive of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis Ivy Tech campuses) will earn CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certifications that will assist them in leading to employment inclusive of having passed course content exams; achieved sufficient English language skills to be effective in the workplace; and received acculturation assistance to understand how to successfully participate in the American workforce.
  • Successful participants will earn 12–15 college course credits.
  • Strategy provides a regular curriculum that enables refugees in multiple resettlement communities in Indiana to earn certifications and advance their education to assist them in successfully settling into Indiana communities.
  • It’s a national best practice and demonstrates how federal job development training funds (both refugee and non-refugee specific) may be used successfully to prepare refugees and other vulnerable populations for careers in workforce.

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