For the 70,000 refugees who resettle in the United States every year, one of the most important transitions comes when launching a successful and productive career. Across the West, refugee employment entered rates range from a low of 23 percent in California to a high of 77 percent in Idaho and 72 percent in Colorado.

A unique partnership between the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver and the African Community Center is playing an increasingly important role toward that high success rate.

The Commercial Food Safety and Service Training has just graduated its seventh group. David Corsun, director of the Knoebel School, said what makes the program unique is that each participant is paired with a hospitality management student.

The end result is one of the highest program success rates in the country when it comes to helping refugees find jobs: 82 percent of participants find employment in commercial kitchens.

“We’re successfully helping get people employed,” Corsun said. “But because of the friendship element, the mentorship piece, we’re helping with their integration into society.”

The program drew recognition from the Worldwide Hospitality Awards in 2013, which recognized the program as Best Educational Innovation. Consun said there’s also interest from the U.S. Department of State, which is looking at funding an expansion of the CFaSST program in other communities that have refugee resettlements and four-year hospitality degree programs across the country.

“What’s so cool, what’s absolutely so amazing is that our students have become so invested in their protégé’s success they’re still in touch. Many of them track progress and want to know about new jobs,” Corsun said.

The University of Denver is just starting to explore the program’s expansion, which is expected to happen in the coming years.