Campus Life

Local high school students get on-the-job training at UWF

The University of West Florida, along with Project SEARCH, is helping high school students learn valuable career lessons and acquire jobs. Project SEARCH, a high school transition program for young adults with disabilities, places students in internships at various businesses in the area, including UWF.

The program, which began in 1996, has locations across the country that teach students competitive work skills and provides certified teachers and job coaches. UWF is currently the only university in Florida to host the program, and is in its second year hosting.

UWF has Project SEARCH interns in the library, Argo Galley, police station, daycare center and other locations across campus.

“UWF is an excellent location to place interns,” said Bobbie Harrison, an instructor for Project SEARCH. “There’s a large variety of skills to be learned.”

The program places students with disabilities 18 to 22 years old who desire to work in the community and can pass drug screening and felony background checks.

A typical day in the program begins at 8:30 a.m., when students are checked in and accounted for. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the students intern at their respective jobs. Finally, they have lunch with their peers and discuss what they have learned.

“This program gives them confidence and the ability to be more independent, an advocate for themselves,” said Syliva Patterson, who helps coordinate the program at UWF. “For UWF, it shows that we’re inclusive and we foster diversity.”

The program takes place over the course of a school year, with rotations every nine to 10 weeks. Patterson said many students end up getting hired at their internships. At least three previous interns are now gainfully employed at UWF.

As the program is in its second year at UWF, the staff has seen much growth and many positive changes since its inception.

Kimberly Tatum, who helped bring Project SEARCH to UWF, has noticed many improvements and positive outcomes.

“Local students had not yet worked in a university setting,” said Tatum. “Participating university departments have raved about how much the students add to the workplace environment. It really benefits the students and the team.”

Patterson and other members of Project SEARCH hope they can continue to spread awareness and get more departments actively involved.

“It’s very important for both UWF and the community,” said Patterson. “These students have shown they can be competent and a great asset to us and their own futures.”