Project SEARCH seeks to make a big difference

By Hannah Hover | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Kevin Huss. Pictured above is Andrew, one of the Project SEARCH interns at Xavier, who prepares the supplies he needs for his shift at Hoff Dining Commons.

It can be easy to take for granted the cleaned Hoff Dining Commons tables at which you sit or the napkin containers which are at your disposal. While you may not always see or recognize those who do this work, they still remain invaluable members of the Xavier community. Many of the employees are members of Project SEARCH, one of Xavier’s best-kept secrets.

Project SEARCH is an unpaid internship program for high school graduates with mild learning disabilities. These interns have completed all the requirements for graduation and explore different employment opportunities while learning about life on a college campus.

Serving as a transition program, students are at the internship sites for one school year working part-time. It not only gives high school students the job training they need but it also gives them the opportunities to make friends, meet new people in the community and become an integral part of Xavier.

Only 12 applicants, ranging from the ages of 18 to 21, are chosen for the program at Xavier each year. There are many different opportunities for employment around the campus.

“The interns leave here prepared to start entry-level employment,” Kevin Huss, the instructor for Project SEARCH said. “Sometimes they’re students that get jobs here, and some of them have gotten jobs here at the cafeteria and in their local community. We average around close to 90% employment for our students over the long-range.” So far, 127 interns have completed the program at Xavier.

Project SEARCH was a program developed in 1996 at the Cincinnati’s Children Hospital, and proceeded to grow into a collaborative effort between Great Oaks Career Campuses, Xavier University and the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Agency. In 2005, Xavier became the first university in the world to host the program.

Today, Project SEARCH has expanded into an international organization with over 550 sites located throughout the U.S. and abroad.

As project SEARCH continues to grow, so too does its presence at Xavier.

“As Xavier grows, so do the opportunities for our interns. New opportunities came on when Currito started, and the new cafeteria and then now the HUB opening,” Huss said. “Anytime there is an advancement in the University that helps us too.”

Huss also explained how Project SEARCH attempts to align with Xavier’s values, using a holistic approach when admitting applicants. “The interns come here and aren’t Xavier students, but they are treated like everyone else would want to be treated. It usually is not the case at the high school they come from,” Huss said.

“When the interns come here, they are exposed to Manresa and all the Xavier activities that go on, so they get the benefit of Xavier and comradery and friendships that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t here.”

These interns also engage with the university in other facets. “We do interact with the Exceptional Student Assembly Club, which is a club here on campus,” Huss explained. The Xavier students involved in this club act as mentors to the program interns, eating lunch together once a week and planning a monthly social event.

Another way the interns prepare for employment is by reading the Newswire, allowing them to read about campus news, grasp a fuller understanding of college life and learn new vocabulary words.

The program was recently relocated to the Center for Innovation on Dana Avenue, across the street from the Smith Hall. 

Project SEARCH is holding an open house today in the Arrupe Overlook from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.