Program introduces disabled students to employers

A program connecting students with disabilities to federal sector employers nationwide will come to campus for the first time Friday, a career services official said.

Kimshi Hickman, associate director of employer relations for Career Services, said a representative for The Workforce Recruitment Program will interview students with learning, mental and physical disabilities who want to enter the federal workforce.

Christina Sessums, a senior social work major who was diagnosed with neuromuscular disease in 2001, said the program is coming because of her request.

“I requested that the program come to TCU because I have disabilities and need workplace accommodations.” Sessums said. “The accommodations I need at my workplace are very expensive, and this program can help find federal agencies that can pay for them.”

Sessums, who has 13 years of previous volunteer and work experience, returned to the university to continue her studies.

Now that she has resumed her education, the program can act as her sales agent, helping to match her to positions that are open in the federal sector based on her skills rather than disabilities, Sessums said.

“Basically, they are the bridge,” she said. “It allows me to take my educational experience and work and volunteer experience and use them in the workforce.”

With the current downturn in the economy, the likelihood of disabled people obtaining a job has become slim, Sessums said.

“Exclusion based on disability is not legal,” she said. “But in today’s economy, when multiple people can apply for the same position, it does happen.”

Hickman said many of the students previously involved with the program on other campuses have been connected with internships all around the country.

“A lot of them may get to spend the summer in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

The program collaborates with the Office of Disability Employment Policy, a division of the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Defense to find jobs for the students who apply through the program, she said.

“They come and interview the students, and they have a database that they use to match the students up with federal employers,” Hickman said.

Betsy Kravitz, a coordinator working for the program with the Department of Labor, said the placement of students depends on the federal agencies hiring at the time.

“A lot of times they get entry-level positions,” Kravitz said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, for example, hires people to work in state parks, she said.

The program strives to bridge the gap between university learning and job experience, Kravitz said.

“It’s a bad thing to come out of school without anything on your resume,” she said. “The federal sector is trying to be a model employer, and we have found it’s a great way to get people involved in the federal government.”

Last year about 500 students got jobs and about 150 went to the District of Columbia area, Kravitz said. Some students even got to go overseas, she said.

Sessums said she hopes to get an internship in Washington working either for mental health or veterans’ affairs advocacy.