Classes help University of Missouri employees communicate

Sunday, February 24, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Some classes being offered at University of Missouri-Columbia are for the employees, with the aim of helping them better communicate with each other.

Rosa Burmeister, training development coordinator for residential life, began teaching classes in Spanish and English for the workplace during the fall. She teaches them twice a week in classrooms at the dormitories.

In the last five years, the Hispanic custodial staff at the university's residence halls has increased to nearly 40 percent of the workers.

Burmeister said the classes have helped employees learn to understand each other.

"Before, they would sit at separate tables, and now they all sit together," she said.

Gladys Turner, 41, head custodian at Rollins Residence Hall, said she asks her daughter, who is learning Spanish in school, to help her practice. She also gets some help from her colleagues whose first language is Spanish.

"They just call out a word sometimes and I'll say, 'What?' They catch me off guard," she said. "Then we just fall out laughing."

Bridging cultural gap

In addition to increasing safety in the workplace, Burmeister said, the classes are about bridging the cultural gap.

Burmeister began Thursday's class by saying that 1.1 million Hispanics have served in the U.S. military, 44.3 million Hispanics are U.S. citizens and more than 2,400 Hispanics live in Boone County.

She presented the class of four students with Mexican dishes -- enchiladas, tortillas and horchata, a cold rice flour drink made with condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla -- that she had prepared at her home in Ashland. She then reviewed the Spanish words for plate, cup, fork and spoon.

She told the students that Mexican employees in the residential life department eat corn tortillas instead of flour because they are from southern Mexico, where corn is grown.

"The reason why I'm telling you all this is so you understand the people you work with," she said.

Frankie Minor, director of residential life, said he thinks the classes are already having positive results.

Workers "can communicate more effectively on the job," Minor said. "Nearly half our staff in our custodial maintenance area where English is their first language signed up" for a class.

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