Federal Workforce Program Opens Doors for WSU Students with DisabilitiesOGDEN, Utah – Sometimes success begins with a simple opportunity others take for granted.
“Sometimes just having a job interview can be a valuable experience,” said Angie McLean, a specialist with Weber State University’s Services for Students with Disabilities. McLean helps organize WSU’s involvement with the federal Workforce Response Program (WRP). A recruitment and referral program, WRP connects federal sector employers nationwide with postsecondary students and recent college graduates with disabilities, who are interested in summer or permanent jobs.
Since 2007, the number of WSU students placed through the WRP has more than tripled, from five students in 2007 to 11 students in 2008 to 16 students in 2009. Three of the students who received paid internships this past summer were offered full-time employment.
“Students with disabilities typically have very limited work experience,” McLean said. “They have to focus and spend more time on their studies. The hardest thing is to get students involved and help them understand the importance of internships.”
WSU has worked with the federal program since the 1980s. Jeff Morris, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, established the partnership to help students transition into the workplace. Now more than 20 years later, the dramatic increase in interest has prompted the federal recruiter to spend three days (Jan. 19-21) interviewing students on campus this year.
“Last year we had 34 students interview,” said McLean, who has coordinated the program at WSU since 2003. “It’s a positive experience where students can openly discuss their disability and feel comfortable asking about accommodations.”
The recruiter interviews each participant individually and enters his or her information into a national database. The database is available to government agencies and some government contractors seeking summer employees. Summer employment opportunities can be tailored to students in particular majors.
“It was a relief to work in a field related to my education,” said Penny Stiverson, an Ogden resident who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in graphic design engineering technology at WSU. The WRP provided Stiverson the opportunity to work as an engineering aid at Hill Air Force Base last summer.
“I was able to show the team on base I was qualified for the work they provided me,” Stiverson said.
According to McLean, a large number of WSU students who are placed earn paid internship opportunities with Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) in clerical and administrative roles.
“Our managers have been extremely pleased with the results of the program,” said Alan Niederhauser, chief of the affirmative employment branch for HAFB. “These students perform work that we need done. We had four or five this summer that we’ve invited back for another year.”
Niederhauser said WSU’s proximity to the base makes the program more accessible for many students. He said that the 12 to 13 WSU students Hill AFB places each year represent close to 50 percent of all the WRP students employed by the U.S. Air Force nationwide.
“This program helps students realize goals that they thought might not be possible,” McLean said. “Very rarely do students interview and not get an offer; usually it’s a case of whether they can make it work with their schedule.”
For more information about the Workforce Response Program visit wrp.gov.
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