Alumni / Spring 2017

Alumni shaping Denver: Hillary Frances, Emily Griffith Technical College

“As somebody who cares about connecting foreign-trained professionals to the same work they’ve been doing in their home countries, it’s a perfect time [in Denver].” Photo: Anthony Camera

Hillary Frances (MA ’09, international and intercultural communications) is instructional dean of adult education and the Language Learning Center at Emily Griffith Technical College, where she helps prepare nontraditional students — including refugees and immigrants — for the workforce. The school’s bridge classes are designed to help adults who worked in STEM and health care fields in their native countries learn English specific to those careers. With her wife, Stephanie Frances, Hillary founded Prodigy Coffeehouse to help prepare youth for meaningful careers.


Q:  You work with refugees and immigrants at Emily Griffith’s Language Learning Center. What specifically are those students looking to learn?

A:  The Language Learning Center is seven different language programs that meet students’ work goals. Some students have the goal of just increasing their English proficiency so that they can go on to an undergrad degree or a community college degree, and others are trying to get a job immediately, because they’re either a refugee or a new immigrant who is working on employment specifically. We have an in-home tutoring program for refugees, and we have something called bridge classes, which are new in the adult-education field. Those are designed to help students who have a specific field they’re trying to get into. They work on English related to that field, and it jump-starts them toward getting entry into those programs. We have a health-focused program and a STEM-focused program for people who worked in science and technology and engineering in their home countries.


Q: You clearly have a passion for international issues — where does that come from?

A: I think that it comes from a place of wanting to experience the richness of the world outside of our small paradigms. When I was younger, I thought the best way to do that would be to move to Haiti or to move to Uganda and spend as much time living in a different world as possible, and that really gave me a lot of energy. That gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of satisfaction and a feeling like I was living the fullest life possible. But then I realized that there is so much around us, just in our very own city, that is rich in variety and in diversity and culture and challenges my way of living and my way of thinking. When I found that in Denver, I became very committed to wanting to immerse myself here in what is happening with refugees and immigrants. Coming to work here every day feels like getting on a plane and going to Ghana or Nigeria or Thailand. You don’t have to make that journey, because the students bring it.


Q: How have you seen Denver change over the past five years, specifically around refugee and immigrant populations?

A: Denver is at the peak of economic growth, as well as growth of the immigrant population base. We’ve got an incredible economy for exploring employment opportunities, and we have new immigrants and refugees moving in at a strong pace. Over the years, we have seen more employers in the city welcome refugees and immigrants as a key integrated part of their workforce, and I think that’s just another sign that Denver understands the positive economic impact of this population and how much they contribute to their strength. Not just a group of people that we need to embrace, but a powerful part of what makes them successful. As somebody who cares about connecting foreign-trained professionals to the same work they’ve been doing in their home countries, it’s a perfect time.


Q: Is Denver becoming a more immigrant-friendly city?

A: Denver and the state of Colorado are becoming more welcoming to new Americans in part because of a really well-coordinated effort from our state refugee resettlement office and our Denver Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. In the past several months, we’ve had a record number of applicants for our volunteer program. It’s an amazing example of how people in this state and in this city want to be involved in things outside of their world, and they want to be challenged.


Q: Without getting too political, is there anything you can say generally about the new administration and how that affects what goes on at Emily Griffith?

A: The political climate has been good for us in a number of ways. It is generating new allies and new communities of support around our refugee and immigrant students. We had a community member reach out just this week and offer a recreation space in a building that he owns for teaching classes in the community. We feel like it’s a new day for the city of Denver to support refugees and immigrants. On the other hand, it’s meant that our support for students and their fears of what it means to be a refugee or an immigrant in this country has had to become more robust. We’ve had listening sessions where students can come and speak what their concerns are or what questions they have. We have partnered with immigration attorneys who come and answer some of those questions. Thanks to DU, I have an awareness of my own female white privilege perspective, and that means that I only understand a fraction of what is going on in terms of fear. My perception of the reality for students is skewed, and these listening sessions have really helped me understand the gravity of what people are living with day to day.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *