Congratulations to our Spring 2022 Career Academy Candidates!

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Group graduation photo

We celebrated the graduation of another Starkloff Career Academy cohort earlier this month. In an online ceremony led by Jason Hartsfield, SDI Career Advisor and Disability Inclusion Lead Consultant (and SCA Alum!), we recognized the achievements of the 11 graduates of the 10 week course.

Candidates spend over 40 hours in live classes and independent study, developing career skills and building their confidence as talented professionals with disabilities.

“The great thing about Starkloff is how they teach you to build a career, not just find a job,” said one grad, summing up what sets this program apart from anything else out there.

The course focuses on long-term career goals, teaching candidates how to be career focused instead of hopping from job to job, and how to highlight their disability experience as an asset they will add to a team.

Corporations such as Wells Fargo, Polaris, SSM Healthcare, and Mercy Healthcare all took part in advising candidates on how to thrive in the job market. HR and hiring managers worked with candidates on skills such as writing cover letters and being confident in interviews. Career Academy staff worked with candidates to understand their disabilities as part of their unique talents and highlight how overcoming barriers is a skill they bring to the table.

The evening began with a welcome and remarks from Starkloff Disability Institute Board Members Dave Baker and Dan Nielsen.

“Across the board every company wants to ensure that they hire people who can overcome adversity,” said Nielsen, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition at Cushman & Wakefield. “It doesn’t matter what organization or industry—every organization looks for people who can run into a challenge and overcome that challenge.”

The keynote speaker for the commencement ceremony was SCA alum Debra Mize, Director of the domestic violence prevention nonprofit Join Me at the Table and lives with multiple sclerosis. She shared a story about world-renowned violinist Itzhak Pearlman and a broken violin string to explore what it means to be in the world without the exact tools we are used to expecting. She encouraged the graduates to identify their most valuable tools, their “strings:” their personal strengths, their community, and the systems that protect their fundamental legal rights.

“The world needs you,” Mize said. “You understand what you need to do: you need to reach out, get information, learn, and share. You’ve learned to say your personal mission statement, breeze through your elevator statement, you work through the barriers society sometimes willingly places in our way. This class put it all together, but it was inside of you all the time.”

Recalling Pearlman’s story, Mize asked, “What are your strings? Your gifts? Who helped you? What can you do to further your goals? These invisible strings in our lives can hold us down, but they can also, from a different perspective, help us rise above it all and fly like a kite.”

Graduates Pamela King and Cameron Buehrer were selected by their classmates to speak during the ceremony as well. Each of them emphasized how the course gave them the confidence they needed to succeed in the job market.

“When I retired from the Air Force,” King said, “I was told, ‘Don’t tell anyone about your disabilities. Don’t tell anyone that you’re a disabled vet—you won’t get hired for a job.’ And so we were taught to keep those things under cover, to keep those things under wrap, to hide and pretend that they don’t exist so that we can have opportunities afforded to us. Well, through this class, I’ve learned there are some things you cannot hide. There’s some brilliance that you can’t keep under a rock… I’m a little different today and I’m pretty happy about that.”

“I was sort of on an island with COVID,” said Buehrer, “trying to go into this job market, with all this information online about how to network, how to use LinkedIn, how to better myself as a professional in my career, and knew that Starkloff could be a tool for me to center my focus. We all really benefited from having a group of support, because when we’re together we’re stronger than ever, especially as disabled people.”

The class bonds were evident, even across Zoom. Everyone agreed regular reunions are in order and looked forward to joining the larger Starkloff community.

At the end of the ceremony, Starkloff COO and fellow alum Lori Becker proposed a toast to new beginnings for the students.

“I can understand the experience that you’ve had and it’s cause for celebration,” Becker said. “I’m proud of you all, you’ve really stuck with it. I’m looking forward to great things to come from all of you. If everyone has a beverage in hand, it’s time to raise your glass— Congratulations, class of 2022!”

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