Academic Internships Expand Career Options for College Students with Disabilities: The Washington Center Experience
By Carolann Murphy, PA
Transitioning to the workplace is challenging for college students, especially those with disabilities. Internships that provide opportunities for networking and exploring career options, as well as work experience and academic credit, are important options for students with disabilities. To connect students with a range of experiences in government and the nonprofit and private sectors, The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) offers summer and semester internships.
Founded in 1975, TWC has helped more than 60,000 young people, including students with disabilities, start on the pathway to rewarding careers. TWC offers a Leadership Initiative for Students with Disabilities (TWC-LISD), a comprehensive tailored internship program supported by AT&T, Kessler Foundation*, and Prudential Financial, that is eligible for academic credit from the students’ home colleges and universities.
According to Gina M. Flores Stumpf, TWC’s managing director of development, TWC-LISD provides the tools, programs, and resources required to help students with disabilities fulfill their academic and professional potential, enter the workplace in their field of choice, and lead full and independent lives after graduation. “In 2019, we provided internships to 50 students who disclosed their disabilities,” she noted.
Interns in TWC-LISD receive special orientation and the accommodations needed to participate fully in the program. “Interns work four days a week in a professional capacity at agencies and organizations throughout the D.C. area, and take an academic course that meets once a week at TWC,” said Flores Stumpf. Rounding out the schedule are L.E.A.D. sessions (centered on leadership, engagement, achievement, and professional development) that provide intensive leadership development and opportunities for educational briefings and one-on-one coaching. TWC recently conducted training on neurodiversity to educate staff about practical issues facing interns with disabilities and to help students advocate for themselves in the workplace.
Before and after their internship, all LISD students complete the same short survey that includes a 9-question Career Readiness inventory that assesses essential skills needed by new graduates. For the 15 interns in the Spring 2019 Academic Internship Program, scores increased for all 9 career readiness items, with significant gains in their confidence in applying their skills in the workplace, being successful in a new city, building a professional network, and adapting to new professional environments. In the words of one LISD intern, “The TWC experience developed my professional networking skills. I learned what skills I excel in, and L.E.A.D. taught me how to use them and come up with a 30-second elevator pitch. This was helpful when I attended networking events where I met important professionals who I would not have met if I did not attend TWC.”
Internships offer a wide variety of practical experiences where students can explore how they can fulfill their career aspirations. An internship at the US Department of Justice helped this intern focus on their interest in the law: “The TWC experience allowed me to find my passion for election law, broadened my career horizons, and expanded my professional network. I gained valuable skills, such as how to conduct legal research and identify various voting rights violations, which I will apply to my future career. And, in an experience unique to working in D.C., my fellow interns and I were able to meet the Attorney General after his confirmation.”
While employment is the fundamental goal of TWC’s internship program, the overall objective is to set students on a course of achievement and leadership, according to Flores Stumpf. “All of society benefits when we mentor young people with the potential to serve as leaders in the workplace and in their communities,” she concluded.
*TWC receives funding from Kessler Foundation to support internships for New Jersey college students with disabilities. Read more about the Foundation’s grantmaking at https://kesslerfoundation.org/grant-programs. Learn more about TWC’s programs for college students with and without disabilities at https://twc.edu