During the summer wedding season, Romy Ingram spends at least 10 hours a day at her five well-oiled industrial sewing and serger machines on the top floor of her home in Syracuse, Utah. The main floor of her house is for her dressing and showroom. Because she is always looking for ways to better engage with clients, Ingram is improving her English skills by participating in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program offered by Weber State University’s Division of Online & Community Education.
“When I arrived in the United States, I was very emotional and nervous as my English was not very good,” said Ingram. “One of my biggest goals — one out of many — was to learn English and have my own business in the near future.”
The ESL program hosted at WSU’s Community Education Center (CEC) opened in 2017 at 2605 Monroe Blvd. in Ogden. It now serves approximately 300 students each year. So far, all have been first-generation immigrants. The 11-week courses are offered in four different levels. Classes meet twice a week for two hours.
“Each class focuses on teaching English grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, conversation and listening skills,” said Morteza Emami, CEC program administrator. “Once students complete the last ESL class at the CEC, they are given an opportunity to take two classes at the LEAP program (Learning English for Academic Purposes), which prepares students for academic classes at WSU.”
Students receive substantial scholarship help to take the LEAP classes for credit.
Ingram, a native of Peru, is not one to shy away from challenging situations or self improvement. When she was a 9-year-old living in northern Peru, her mother died. All of the children in her family went to live with different relatives and friends. She got to live with her grandmother.
As a young woman, she left her hometown and moved to Lima to study sewing and clothing manufacturing. She attended a technical school for five years, learning patterns, different stitches, techniques and machines. After she completed her training, she successfully worked as a seamstress for a number of years.
Although Ingram was doing well with her business in Peru, she wanted more for her family and herself. She felt like she and her three children would have more opportunities in the U.S., so she decided to begin the immigration process. When she started her paperwork, she learned that she would be able to bring her two younger daughters with her, but not her son because he was legally an adult. It was important to her that they stay together the best they could, so she and her family made a difficult choice. She would come to the U.S. and work while her children stayed behind in Peru with their father until all of them could come together.
Ingram arrived in Florida and worked as a housekeeper for several years. She knew almost no English and was able to visit her children once or twice a year only. While she was separated from them, she continued to work diligently on her children’s residency applications.
After three years, her children joined her, and they moved to Utah. She then met and married her husband Tony while completing the immigration process. She worked in a grocery store bakery for a few years before being able to restart her sewing business.
“When I worked in the bakery, my coworkers and I spoke 75% Spanish,” Ingram said.” I felt a sense of belonging and community. However, it was very hard work, and I wanted to sew again.”
Ingram knew that she would need to improve her English skills to work better with local clientele. She examined her options and learned about WSU’s ESL program from an acquaintance. She completed the first course in July 2019. She began her second 11-week class on July 12.
“The school was not only accommodating to my busy schedule of a working single mom but also to my budget,” Ingram said. “I still remember the first day I started my classes. I was so excited and eager to learn everything I could about the English language. I asked many questions, maybe too many, and everyone was so kind and helpful in helping me achieve this dream.”
With a better understanding of English and the help of her new stepdaughter, Ingram was able to build a website for her business, M & G Creations and now works on about 20 dresses at times during the prom and wedding seasons.
“Learning English is a foundational skill that transforms our student's lives by opening doors for employment and career advancement,” said Luis Lopez, CEC director. “In a time when immigrants can be judged unfairly, we are proud to show that our residents are looking for opportunities. Weber State University offers the means, and our students the grit. The results are successful students, happier families and a stronger community.”
Ingram plans on applying for full U.S. citizenship within the next few months.
“I am beyond satisfied with the ESL program,” she said. “It has truly helped me find my very own American Dream.”