MSU launches school-to-work program for youth with disabilities

September 30, 2016
Spartan Project SEARCH students attend a Spartan volleyball game together.

Spartan Project SEARCH students attend a Spartan volleyball game together. Photo courtesy of Communications and Brand Strategy.

Starting this fall, Michigan State University is helping young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities prepare for the workplace through a new on-campus internship program.

Spartan Project SEARCH combines a successful international program with the expertise of MSU researchers and partners committed to improving outcomes for students during a time when many fall behind—the transition from school to work.

Seventy to 80 percent of young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism or Down syndrome, are unemployed. Most rely heavily on caregivers after completing K-12 education and can become isolated and anxious or depressed, say program co-directors Marisa Fisher and Connie Sung.

In Spartan Project SEARCH, 10 students receive on-the-job support as interns in MSU settings such as offices, residence halls, cafes, doctor’s offices and animal clinics. Each of the interns, who come from school districts throughout Ingham County, will be paired with an MSU undergraduate student serving as a peer mentor. They start and end each day with instruction provided by Ingham Intermediate School District.

“The MSU campus simulates the real world in that it can offer not only job skills but also independent living skills, such as how to use public busing, be safe with strangers and experience leisure activities,” said Sung, assistant professor of rehabilitation counseling.

“Our goal is to foster acceptance among the MSU community and beyond, to help people recognize these young people have a lot to contribute to the work community and move past the stigma many of them face,” said Fisher, assistant professor of special education.

Spartan Project SEARCH is part of the Research in Autism, Intellectual and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND) initiative at MSU. Fisher and Sung, both professors in the College of Education, will study how the program impacts participants as well as the attitudes and perceptions of MSU students and staff that interact with them.

“This is a great opportunity for our young adult interns who have intellectual disabilities to find competitive employment and make a successful transition from school to adult life,” said Scott Koenigsknecht, superintendent of the Ingham ISD. “These partnerships really make a difference for students and our region, and we are grateful to work with our local districts and MSU on this initiative.”

MSU is one of 12 host sites to begin offering Project SEARCH programs throughout Michigan this year. Additional partners include Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties, Peckham Inc. and the Michigan Bureau of Services for Blind Persons.

The program is funded in part by Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

An opening ceremony for Spartan Project SEARCH is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 5 at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, 640 S. Shaw Lane on the MSU campus in East Lansing.

On the Web

Learn more about Spartan Project SEARCH from the MSU researchers and students taking part in the program: