Weber State to launch Spanish-language classes meant to lead to degrees

Weber State University will launch Building Puentes, geared for Spanish-speakers, in the fall semester, university officials said Tuesday.

Weber State University will launch Building Puentes, geared for Spanish-speakers, in the fall semester, university officials said Tuesday. (Weber State University)

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OGDEN — In a bid to augment post-secondary educational offerings for Spanish speakers, Weber State University will start offering some classes in Spanish in the fall, aiming eventually to offer a full slate of classes in the language that will lead to degrees.

"We're focused on meeting prospective and current Hispanic students and their families where they are, and helping them get where they want to go," Weber State University President Brad Mortensen said in a statement Tuesday.

The university is launching the initiative — Building Puentes — with a $2.5 million grant from the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity. Ryan Starks, executive director of the economic development driver, sees it as a way to bolster the northern Utah workforce. "Puentes" means bridges in English.

"This is one of the first programs of its kind nationwide, and the very first in Utah," he said. "We see this as an opportunity to upskill our workforce, especially in northern Utah where there's a higher population of Spanish-speaking people."

Weber State spokesman Bryan Magaña said the Latino population in Ogden, which makes up about 30% of the city's residents, is double the concentration statewide. "Many people in our community speak Spanish as their first or primary language. So, with Weber State's largest campus being situated in the heart of Ogden, there's definitely a need for a program like this, and it's clear Weber State is the right university to offer it," he said.

The "soft launch" of the program is set for the fall 2024-2025 term with the Spanish-language class offerings focused on computer science and entrepreneurship, Magaña said. Participating students will initially be able to get certificates in certain specialized areas. By 2028, after the initiative is further developed and the Spanish-language class offerings are expanded, participants will be able to study for a bachelor's degree in computer science, university officials hope, or an array of associate's degrees. Classes are to be offered in person and online.

"We're starting with these areas where there's high industry demand and broad marketability," said Mortensen. Existing English-language curriculum already taught at the university will be translated into Spanish as part of the effort, requiring the hiring of more Spanish-speaking faculty and staff.

The program is geared toward proficient Spanish speakers, which can include native Spanish speakers and English speakers who are hoping to improve their Spanish, Magaña said. Native Spanish speakers participating in the program will also have to take English-as-a-second-language classes.

"For us, it's about supporting our economy, filling important jobs in the right sectors in the state's key industries," Starks said.

Weber State is working to become an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution, or eHSI, with at least 15% of its students Latino. Becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, with a student body that's 25% Latino, opens the door to additional federal funding. Latinos accounted for about 12.5% of Weber State's full-time undergraduate students as of the fall of 2022, according to the university.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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