Internships for Students with Disabilities: A Promising Practice in Fostering Positive Attitudes in the Workplace
ENTRY POINT!, directed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is a summer internship program for college students with disabilities. This competitive program places students in internships at NASA, IBM, the National Science Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the National Institutes of Health, and Texas Instruments. To qualify for an ENTRY POINT! internship, a student must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student, with a disability, majoring in a science or engineering field (some fields of business are also considered), have a B average or better, and be a U.S. citizen or have a right-to-work permit.
In 1997, when the program was beginning, ENTRY POINT! staff worked with companies to introduce them to the fact that talented, high-achieving individuals capable of working in and contributing to a team research project may have disabilities.
One particular company had managed summer internship programs nationwide for many years. Most of the internships, however, were geared to students without disabilities. The challenge was to encourage the site coordinators to welcome students with disabilities as full-time interns doing meaningful work.
During lunchtime meetings with site coordinators, ENTRY POINT! staff shared information about the program, and site coordinators were asked for thoughts and ideas. For example: How did the coordinator get into their present position? What would she/he like to be doing in the future?
It is important to get input on an internship program from everyone involved. People who are working with students with disabilities for the first time need opportunities to express their concerns and to receive appropriate information about disability.
ENTRY POINT! is a promising practice in fostering positive thinking in site coordinators. By listening to the perspectives of site coordinators, gently challenging their assumptions, and providing them with accurate and useful information, the internship coordinators are willing to make opportunities work for students with disabilities in a challenging and competitive environment.