WVU Medicine announces Project SEARCH partnership

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

WVU Medicine announced today (Sept. 10) a partnership with Project SEARCH to provide internship experience for students with special needs. While the program itself has existed since 1996, WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital will be the state’s first location to host the internship experience.

Joy Burress, Project SEARCH, Colleen Sybert, WVU Medicine Sr. Director Human Resources, Leeann Cerimele, WVU Medicine Chief Human Resources Officer, Susie Rutkowski, co-founder of Project SEARCH, Susan Beck, executive director, Office of Special Education WV Department of Education, Whitney Hatcher, WVU Medicine Volunteer Services Manager
Joy Burress, Project SEARCH, Colleen Sybert, WVU Medicine Sr. Director Human Resources, Leeann Cerimele, WVU Medicine Chief Human Resources Officer, Susie Rutkowski, co-founder of Project SEARCH, Susan Beck, executive director, Office of Special Education WV Department of Education, Whitney Hatcher, WVU Medicine Volunteer Services Manager

“Our mission is to serve the members of our community, and partnerships with organizations like Project SEARCH give us the opportunity to do that in an impactful way,” Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System, said. “By providing these individuals with the skills they need to be more employable, we can help them be more independent and self-sufficient throughout their lifetimes.”

Project SEARCH will be coordinated and hosted by WVU Medicine and supported by the West Virginia Department of Education. Together, in partnership with other community organizations, they will create a one-year immersion experience that combines classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. Participating community organizations include:

  • the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services;
  • local school systems in Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties;
  • PACE Enterprises;
  • Goodwill North Central West Virginia;
  • the Fairmont Disability Action Center; and
  • the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

“Our goal for all students is that they are able to graduate high school prepared for post-secondary success within higher education or the workforce,” Steven Paine, EdD, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, said. “We are proud to partner with WVU Medicine and the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services to bring Project SEARCH to the Mountain State. This program will help us better equip students with significant cognitive disabilities for competitive post-secondary employment opportunities.”

Student interns apply to be a part of the program during their previous school year. They must pass a skills assessment evaluation and be interviewed as part of the acceptance process. Once accepted into the program, student interns report to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital instead of their home school district classroom for the entire school year. Student interns will rotate through a number of job roles at the hospital. The Project SEARCH Program serves as the student interns’ capstone educational experience and often leads to employment once the internships are complete.

The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of training and career exploration, innovation adaptations, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from teachers, job coaches, and employers. Skills such as assembly, clerical duties, courier services, sterilization, stocking, and environmental skills will be taught through different host departments. As a result, student interns with significant intellectual disabilities can become employed in nontraditional, complex, and rewarding jobs at the completion of the training program.

Student with disabilities who are interested in becoming an a student intern through Project SEARCH should contact Whitney Hatcher, manager of Volunteer Services and Project SEARCH business liaison, at whitney.hatcher@wvumedicine.org.

For more information on Project SEARCH, visit projectsearch.us.