The photo above is from our June meeting in Tampa of the partners of the Johnson Scholarship for students with disabilities in the State University System of Florida. This annual meeting is convened by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and attended by representatives of each of the state universities and the Board of Governors’ Office. The Foundation was well represented, as you can see from the photo.
JSF has frequently touted this program as one of its best scholarship programs. The Foundation grant attracts a partial match from the state, which also provides excellent administration and financial management of the grant. Each of the state universities, through their disability service offices, manage the scholarship applications and awards and provide “secret sauce” support to students. JSF makes the grants that underpin the program and also provides nonmonetary support. The annual convening is one of JSF’s “non-monetary” supports.
The Foundation has recently been asked to make a grant to an organization that would provide internships to students with disabilities. In a survey last fall and follow up letter earlier this year we posed the question to our SUSF partners: would you be willing to forgo some of your scholarship grant to fund internships?
The answer was “no”. Scholarship money for students with disabilities is precious; there is much unmet need. That was not the end of the matter, however. The survey and follow up disclosed a great interest and, among some of our SUSF partners, expertise in the subject of internships.
Internships and employment for students with disabilities was chosen as the theme for this June’s annual meeting. It was a natural follow on from the June 2016 meeting, which invited representatives from the Career Service offices of each of the 12 SUSF universities. That meeting focused on strengthening the relationship between the Career and Disability Service offices and thereby providing greater employment opportunities for students with disabilities. To give some context, university graduates with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. So, we invited the Career Service representatives to this meeting also.
We also invited 3 local employers who provide student internships and they formed a panel to discuss the elements to a successful internship program. They emphasized two elements which are lacking in the internship program that JSF was asked to fund: compensation for the intern and a realistic chance for longer term employment. The employer advice and the discussion with the campuses who have well- developed internship programs was helpful to everyone in attendance. The SUSF campuses learn from each other’s experience and JSF learns from all of them.
The SUSF has the people, expertise and the organizational capacity to help students with disabilities to obtain more employment opportunities through internships. JSF is uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst to make this happen. In addition to its reputation as a reliable and valued grant maker, JSF has experience, knowledge and the ability to act independently, in the pursuit of its mission. This is a good partnership.