First-Ever Access U Internship Intensive an Overwhelming Success

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Maddy is posing in front of a laptop. College Outreach Coordinator, Katie is on the screen mid-conversation with closed captions across her forehead. Maddy has fair skin, dark brown hair and an under lip piercing.

The number one barrier to employment for recent graduates is not enough training.

Access U, SDI’s program to prepare college students with disabilities for successful careers and independent lives, developed a new offering to break down that barrier.

The Internship Intensive, a weeklong workshop offered August 9-13 over Zoom, prepared 13 future professionals with disabilities to land competitive internships and jumpstart their careers.

The Intensive commenced Monday with introductions as well as discussions on habits of an effective jobseeker, the history of disability employment, disability pride, and self-advocacy. These topics resonated in a meaningful way with the students.

“For many of our students, this was their first time connecting with Starkloff, so that disability pride piece was really informative, and a lot of the feedback indicated it was their favorite part,” said SDI College Outreach Coordinator, Katie Fields. “Many of the students also voiced how disappointing it is that disability history isn’t taught in schools.”

Tuesday focused on the recruiting process, how to properly dissect a job description and how to assemble a competitive resume. Darrah Higginbotham, HR Manager at Nestle Purina, also stopped by to share valuable tips on landing the ideal internship.

“We were hoping to convey the dynamics within our culture and its inclusivity as well as help young students get prepared to interview with companies in the future,” Darrah explains. “I was very pleased with the participation and level of engagement. There were thoughtful comments and questions about roles, Purina’s culture and our internships.”

Wednesday included cover-letter writing, interview etiquette and STAR stories. Jim Beirne of Washington University also gave an insightful presentation on the usefulness of informational interviews and the importance of building a professional brand online.

While the younger generation spends a significant amount of time on social media, Katie says they don’t often think of its professional networking potential.

“LinkedIn was a new concept for many students. I don’t think they realized how it could impact their internship job search,” Katie acknowledges. “We don’t often associate social media and the job search as being related in any way, but Jim did a great job demonstrating how useful LinkedIn can be.”

Thursday and Friday featured practice with elevator pitches and mock interviews. As one of the HR volunteers providing feedback to participants, Darrah understands the most stressful aspects of the hiring process.

“Being interviewed, even in a mock setting, is nerve racking. I tried to make everyone feel like we’re just having a casual conversation,” Darrah recalls. “Interviewing is such an important skill to learn and it is tough to know what to expect or how to prepare. Being able to educate, inform and provide feedback in a mock setting at this early stage in their professional lives is so helpful and allows students to set themselves up for success early on.”

The week concluded with final presentations given by each participant, most of whom will soon be pursuing internships for next summer. Ashley Schumacher, a psychology student at Fontbonne University, hopes the Internship Intensive will give her the edge she needs to gain admission to a highly competitive graduate program.

“The elevator pitch and interview practice will help because I’ll have to interview to get into grad school, and hopefully my confidence from the intensive will carry over,” Ashley remarks. “It will help me speak more succinctly and impactfully as to why I’m a good fit for the program.”

Access U is a program to prepare career-minded college students with disabilities to land internships and jobs that will launch their careers after graduation. To learn more, visit www.accessu.org.

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