Fed internship program seeks those with disabilities
December 4, 2008
If you're a college student with a disability hoping to gain valuable experience and get a great job, Uncle Sam wants you. In the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., that's especially true.
ASC currently employs four people who completed a federal summer internship program designed for students with a disability seeking post-secondary education. It's called the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities.
"It's been a great experience working for the federal government," said Jayson Saylor, former student who now works in ASC's Information Management. "I'm getting to meet a lot of great people and learn a lot of new skills."
In 2008, 455 students interned at various federal agencies across the nation. The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) provided accommodation for the students to ensure productivity and success.
The Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Department of Defense co-sponsor the program which is funded from May 15 through September. The funding guarantees interns 14 weeks of work. After graduation, there's always the possibility that a student may be hired full time or in a temporary status by the organization where the internship took place.
"One of the first things I said when they offered me the position was that I would be happy to take it but I would need a couple of months off to take the bar review course and study for the law exam," said former intern Brendan Sullivan, now an ASC paralegal. "I thought that would be the end of the discussion and they wouldn't call me back, but they did, and they gave me the time off for the exam...I passed. It seems to have worked out for everyone."
To enter the program certain criteria that must be met.
Students must have a substantial disability, be a U.S. citizen, along with being enrolled in school full time - unless their disability prohibits this. And, graduates may enter the program as long as they are within one year from when they completed their schooling, said Gayla Pacheco, ASC's Workforce Recruitment Program liaison and an employee at the Equal Employment Opportunity office.
According to the Labor Department, the program provides colleges and universities a means to tap into a system that successfully places students with disabilities in summer and permanent jobs, at no cost to school, student, or the employees. And, allows qualified students an opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
Besides gaining experience, interns are paid for their work. Pay varies depending on if a degree has been completed, profession, and location of organization.
From January through February, recruitment visits are held, which includes interviews with students. In mid-March, supervisors planning for an intern should make a list of skills and qualifications for the position they wish to fill. Participating organizations then make direct contact with students.
The pool of new students is replaced annually, meaning students must reapply if they hope to secure another internship.
ASC's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, Roy Moody, said it is significant when an organization hires an individual with a disability.
"In all of the areas of concern that we have in EEO - that is race discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination - if we can use programs that address disabilities we can address these issues (too)," Moody said.
In order for the program to succeed, certain concerns must be addressed.
"I think the first thing you have to recognize as far as a challenge or concern is ensuring that you understand what the disability is, and then figuring out as a leader within the organization how to mitigate any barriers to allow the student with the disability to be the best they can be," said Jerry DeLaCruz, ASC's Command Assessment and Continuous Improvement director.
"Depending on what their disability is, I think that those type of considerations should be viewed and looked at before the intern arrives at your location. And then you try to do whatever you can do to mitigate some of the potential barriers," DeLaCruz said.
Although serving your nation brings a sense of pride, working for the federal government also offers other benefits.
"I think for the student, giving them an opportunity to be exposed to (the federal government) when they come out of college, they look around and try to decide: 'Where do I want to work' What organization do I want to be affiliated with' What career field do I want to go in to'' " said Col. Mary Mason, ASC's Human Resources director. "Coming in as a participant in this program gives them one other exposure to something in the civilian sector that they might want to do."
Mason said the federal government is a great place to work.
"It's a pretty good organization, lot of benefits, and professionally they can grow and they can have upward mobility as they come into the federal workforce," Mason said.
The program can also be a confidence-booster to those with second thoughts.
"It really boosted my self-confidence...I didn't exactly know if I could cut it as a professional with a learning disability and be able to function and with work with peers in a professional environment who didn't have the same challenges that I have everyday," said Elysa Otero, former intern and now an ASC training development specialist.
"It's a great program. It's wonderful," Otero said. "People have helped me and worked with me and I'm really thankful that this internship existed because now I have the potential to have a career in the federal government and it's a great place to work.
College coordinators for disability services or career services can dial 202-693-7880 or 7881 for text telephone for the WRP coordinator. Students interested in the program should let their coordinators know about it, and ask them to contact the WRP coordinator.
More information can be found at this Web site: www.dol.gov/odep
Students need to remember that program personnel work directly with college coordinators and cannot respond to inquiries from individual students.
DOD also encourages WRP students to stay in touch with it. It's called the DOD Electronic Mentoring Program. That way, DOD can inform students on events, internships, mentoring programs, and job openings. Interns may send their current contact information to Diane Levesque at firstname.lastname@example.org or Donald Masters at Donald.email@example.com .