MOUNT VERNON — Student after student took to the floor to showcase their PowerPoints and receive a certificate for completing the Basic Business Computer Course at Skagit Valley College.

Though confident now, some students entered the class having never touched a computer.

On Saturday, 31 Spanish-speaking farm owners, business owners and ambitious learners graduated from the program, which taught participants Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint, as well as typing skills and how to navigate the internet.

At the end of the eight-week course, Maribel Reyes said she learned skills that would help her start her own flower design business.

“It was a big learning experience,” she said. “I had never had this opportunity before.”

The class was sponsored by the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) and made possible through a collaboration between the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County and Skagit Valley College.

Rural, Spanish-speaking communities often face barriers to using computers and acquiring technological literacy skills, NABC Executive Director David Bauermeister said. Language is a major barrier, as is simply accessing technology.

Bauermeister went on to explain how the program is beneficial to those pursuing business, as well as those hoping to continue their education. By offering it at the college, students were exposed to the school’s resources.

Some students have already enrolled in other classes at the college.

“It’s never too late to learn,” course instructor Gilberto Estrada said.

Estrada, a bilingual instructor with over 15 years of experience, began teaching the computer class in 2007. Today, he leads a beginner and intermediate course every other year with Sandra Ruiz, his assistant and former student.

Together, the two work to provide participants with tech skills — free of charge thanks to the NABC — that will help them launch and maintain successful businesses.

The NABC hopes the class will continue as part of its emerging Latino Business Development Program.

— Reporter Leah Allen: 360-416-2149, lallen@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Leah_SVH

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