Student Spotlight: Project SEARCH

On September 26th, we received a direct message on Instagram from a student expressing how a student employee, Zane, was a phenomenal worker and always put a smile on everyone’s face at Western Dining Commons. As you know, social media is a powerful tool and is a way for our student body to communicate feedback about dining and other areas on campus. This message from a student sparked the interest of us here at Miami Dining and after contacting the manager at Western, Amy Allen, we were told that Zane is one of the few interns with the Project SEARCH program on campus.

Project SEARCH is a 9 month program that helps students with developmental disabilties secure a job within the workforce. Through that time period, the interns interact with a skills trainer, review their position, and rotate to other positions on campus every 3 months – giving them a range of locations, styles, and atmospheres to strengthen their skills. Project SEARCH has been working with dining and other facilities on campus since the 2010 – 2011 school year.

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996 when Erin Riehle was Director of the Emergency Department. Erin saw a need and believed since the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense to be reaching out and hiring people within this group. She began to think of the logistical steps to hiring and if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the entry level positions in her department, which involved things such as stocking supply cabinets and other tasks. As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed a partnership and together they launched Project SEARCH.

Since the beginning, Project SEARCH has grown from a single site at Cincinnati Children’s to sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Netherlands.

After visiting with the interns with Project SEARCH at Miami, their passion for their work was evident. They were eager to share their personal work experience, stories, goals, and dreams for their time in the program and after.


Through his time working at Western Dining Commons, Cameron Jacquillard credits his experience working at the International Station at Western for furthering his interest in the culinary arts. He describes his time as something that has inspired him to one day start his own restaurant and apply for the television show, Hell’s Kitchen.

Cameron, among the others within the Project SEARCH, said they enjoy getting to interact with everyone and are gaining essential people skills. Developing upon those skills is crucial to them as people but also as employees in the future.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment’s August 2017 statistics, only 20.5% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force compared to 68.8% of people without disabilities.  In addition, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is more than doubled of that of people without disabilities, 9.4% and 4.4% respectively.  This is an improvement from August 2016 which had and unemployment rate of 11.3%.

For 2015 and 2016 Project SEARCH National/International graduates, the average employment was 75.5%. In 2015 – 2016, average employment of Butler Tech Project SEARCH was 90%, and for the 2016 – 17 graduates the current employment rate is 93%.

93% is a number that Project SEARCH coordinator and instructor, Rosi Wood, is proud of.  She says, “With this program, we instruct them to be better employees and better people. I challenge them and push them to be the best they can be with the 9 months that I have them so when they leave, they are ready for the workforce.” With a number like 93% of post-Project SEARCH employment rate, that is proof that the formula is working and we are proud that Miami Dining can help in that process.

Miami University Dining is committed to the employment of students all across campus. Student employees make a difference in the way our dining operations are ran and are vital to the culture. We are grateful for their hard work and contribution to all of our dining facilities, especially those involved with Project SEARCH.

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