WVU Medicine celebrates first Project SEARCH graduating class

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –  The first class of Project SEARCH interns graduated from the WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital program on Wednesday.

Project SEARCH is an international program that allows high school seniors with mild to moderate special needs to work in different areas of the hospital, instead of going to their final year of school. While the program has existed since 1996, WVU Medicine is the first Project SEARCH host site in the state. The cohort of five students who participated, also known as “The Fab Five”, rotated within the organization, gaining real-world experience.

However, their journey began with a major hurdle, COVID-19.

Sybert speaking during graduation ceremony

As I said during the graduation ceremony, when we got thrown a major curveball of COVID on March 13th of 2020, we first had to mobilize everybody here in the hospital from a policy and procedure perspective. And as the weeks wore on, we then had to reach out to each of the students who, many of them had never been in a hospital, and so do they want to come into a hospital? Does their school district, do their families feel safe about them coming into a hospital during a pandemic? And how do we keep them safe? And so that started our journey. The Fab Five came in they knocked it out of the park and they changed our lives, probably, much more than we changed theirs. 

Colleen Sybert – AVP of Human Resources, WVU Medicine

Sybert’s sentiments were shared by Albert Wright, president and chief executive of WVU Hospitals.

“We are a better organization because of all the great work you have done,” Wright said.

The graduates include:

  • Jasmin Baker – who has accepted a job with WVU Medicine
  • Abigail Carpenter – who is actively job hunting
  • Akira Jones – who is actively job hunting
  • Joshua Tracey – who has accepted a position at WVU Medicine
  • Logan Price – who has accepted a position at WVU Medicine

All five interns had to follow the Project SEARCH curriculum, which covers 36 weeks and sees them juggling three internships throughout the year. This meant they worked in departments like radiology, transportation and even the gift shop to get hands-on experiences.

The impact it had on their lives is undescribable.

Baker delivering a speech during the graduation ceremony

One graduate, Jasmin Baker, said she was hesitant to take part, at first, but she is glad for changing her mind.

“I’m so excited I took a chance with this program,” she said.

The newly graduated intern said she would recommend WVU’s Project SEARCH program to anyone, because it brought her out of her shell, introduced her to new friends and taught her so much.

She learned all of this despite the COVID-19 pandemic making every step of the process more challenging. For that, Sybert said she was proud of Baker and the rest of The Fab Five.

“They met all of those challenges, she said. “They surpassed all of those challenges. As we said three of our interns are either now employed or going to be employed within the next couple of weeks. And our other two students are looking for positions within the community of Fairmont.”

Logan Price receives his certificate

Akira Jones and Abigail Carpenter are the two currently seeking employment.

If there are any employees on the fence about bringing them on board, Sybert has one thing to say.

“What I would say in my past experience and my current experience with folks with young adults with disabilities, they have the drive to succeed more than any abled adult,” Sybert said. “And so, absolutely, you want to give them a chance and move forward and let them bring their personality to your business. They’re going to change your life just as much as you’re changing theirs.”

The graduates with one of their graduation gifts “All The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss

Right now, WVU Medicine is hoping to bring in new interns through Project SEARCH. The application deadline was May 18.

Sybert said there are 10 applicants who applied.

“We’re in the process right now of bringing them in, interviewing them, taking them on a tour of the hospital,” Syber said. “And then, we will have that assessment day with a rollout late August, early September, for the four school districts: Mon, Marion, Taylor and Preston.”  

Project SEARCH at WVU Medicine is coordinated and hosted by WVU Medicine and supported by the West Virginia Department of Education. Other participating community organizations include:

WVU Medicine Project SEARCH partners
  • the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services;
  • local school systems in Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties;
  • PACE Enterprises;
  • Goodwill North Central West Virginia;
  • the Fairmont Disability Action Center; and
  • the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

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