UW-Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute Project SEARCH to start in fall

Program will provide career exploration to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities
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Happy women showing open sign Menomonie, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute has partnered with Project SEARCH to provide work-based learning experiences and career exploration to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities starting this fall.

“Project SEARCH is an ideal fit with UW-Stout,” said Kyle Walker, executive director of the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute. “The program supports and reinforces UW-Stout’s enduring goals and community values. It is hands-on applied learning that prepares students with disabilities to be employment ready and prepare for in-demand careers consistent with their individual abilities, skills and interests.”

Project SEARCH serves high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their last year of high school, and out-of-school young adults with disabilities.

About a dozen students from the Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10 school district, which includes school districts from Ladysmith south to Neillsville and Chippewa Falls west to Medford, will come to UW-Stout Project SEARCH starting in September with their special education instructors and learn employability skills in a classroom and job skills participating in internships on campus, Walker said.

Project SEARCH participants will have internships at the Memorial Student Center and Merle M. Price Commons doing general custodial work and helping to set up conference rooms, University Archives and Area Research Center scanning archive materials and Facilities Management for custodial and maintenance work.

“They will be doing skills development in unpaid internships,” Walker explained, noting the students will not be replacing regular university employees.

UW-Stout will be the second UW System campus to host the program. UW-Platteville has been a Project SEARCH campus for three years.

Having Project SEARCH on campus will advance diversity at UW-Stout, Walker said.

“Project SEARCH will contribute to UW-Stout’s efforts to be a welcoming, fully inclusive and tolerant campus,” Walker said. “This partnership enhances our campus community’s diversity and inclusivity, and it epitomizes the UW-Stout commitment to maximizing each individual’s potential and opportunities. It builds on the long, proud, and storied history of leadership in vocational rehabilitation and disability services at UW-Stout.”

Maria Alm, interim dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences, agreed.

“Project SEARCH aligns wonderfully with the work of the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, our campus commitment to diversity and inclusivity, as well as with several of our highly ranked programs, such as our master’s in rehabilitation counseling and our undergraduate degree in rehabilitation services,” Alm said, noting U.S. News and World Report in 2019 ranked the master’s in rehabilitation program No 4 in the United States.

Project SEARCH provides real-life work-based learning experiences through unpaid internships that are combined with employability skills instruction, soft-skills training and independent-living skills training essential to obtaining and maintaining successful employment. Interns learn and apply skills including teamwork, workplace safety, work ethic, understanding and meeting employer performance and behavior expectations, interpersonal communications, technology, self-advocacy and financial literacy. The yearlong program culminates in supported job development and placement in a career pathway consistent with individual interests, skills and abilities.

The UW-Stout Project SEARCH is staffed by a special education teacher and qualified work skills trainers provided by partner organizations who work directly with the interns. Participant costs are funded by the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and program costs are funded by the participating school districts and other partner organizations. The UW-Stout Project SEARCH is a partnership of the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, L.E. Phillips Career Development Center in Eau Claire, multiple long-term support provider organizations and several local school districts.

Project SEARCH began in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. The program has grown from the initial site to over 621 employment sites in 47 states and 10 countries internationally. Since 2010 over 30,545 young adults with disabilities have successfully participated in the program and obtained quality employment. There are 30 Project SEARCH sites in Wisconsin at companies such as Mayo Clinic, Sauk Prairie Hospital, Marshfield Medical Center, Mitchell International Airport, and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Nationwide, the employment rate for Project SEARCH graduates during the 2017-18 school year was 67.1 percent. That same year, 69 percent of Wisconsin Project SEARCH graduates were employed upon completion of the program.

The Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute serves as a leader to advance innovative programs and practice in disability and employment through partnerships in research, training, education, and services.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.