Partnership with ESC Makes Kent State Geauga a Valued Job-Training Site
Kent State University Geauga Campus is not just an academic institution. It’s also a workplace where young adults with special needs receive on-the-job training and transferrable skills that make them productive citizens in their own communities.
This has become possible through a new partnership with the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve (ESC), formerly the Geauga County Educational Service Center. Through the ESC, Kent State Geauga is a new job training site for local students with physical, cognitive, social, and/or emotional disabilities. The students, aged 16-22, are enrolled in the ESC vocational program either full- or part-time and work at various partner sites for elective credits toward high school graduation rather than for a paycheck. Often, they are hired on later as paid workers at their job training sites after graduation.
Megan Krippel, Director of Enrollment Management and Student Support Services at Kent State Geauga, initiated this partnership in May 2019, starting with four students from the Berkshire school district. It has gone so well that she is eager to see the program expand after this initial group completes its first academic year. Krippel works closely with Jaina Gandolfi, Vocational Director of the ESC, collaborating as an educational partner to help equip students with the skills and experience they need to succeed in the workplace. A teacher and a job coach from ESC are also on hand to guide students through their workdays,
While the campus provides job training opportunities and a nurturing work environment, the ESC vocational training program cultivates students' job skills. It ensures that training sites and students are a good fit for each other. Kent State Geauga is among 30-35 active job site partners in the community, including Kinetico, Great Lakes Cheese, University Hospitals Geauga, Heinen’s, and Rescue Village, to name a few. The ESC of the Western Reserve serves students from school districts throughout Lake and Geauga counties.
“Programs such as these have amazing systemic effects by cultivating work skills, removing the stigma that comes along with disabilities, and helping to fill the labor market with additional skilled workers,” Krippel says.
“These programs assert that a student that has a disability is still able to be a contributing member of society, and this program provides students with real-world experiences. Students that participate in vocational training learn job skills that are highly valuable in today's workforce.”
Gandolfi adds, “We focus on students’ abilities, career interests, and employability strengths to help them develop transferable skills that make them meaningfully productive and valued workers within their own communities. Their employers value them for their dependability, punctuality, longevity, work ethic, and motivation to work; all great characteristics that many mainstream employees fail to develop.”
From her perspective managing a job-training site in this partnership, Krippel says, “The ESC students are at our Burton site on Thursdays, and it is the highlight of my week, seeing these students on campus. We have an office for them to use, giving me a firsthand look at their amazing work, while also providing my team the opportunity to engage with the students and the ESC staff. The students are dedicated, task-oriented, positive, and inspiring.”
“In addition to these intrinsic values, the students also are producers. Our office provides the students with tasks such as logging information in our Customer Relationship Management system, putting together mailers, creating packets for incoming students, and each time the tasks are completed expediently and accurately.”
Krippel goes on to say that the students benefit not only from job training at Kent State Geauga (how to use data systems, create bulk mailings, do maintenance and general office duties), but also from engagement with others. In the university setting, team members, campus faculty, and Kent State Geauga students check in with the ESC students and socialize with them as they work.
“This interaction with our students increases understanding about people with disabilities among fellow employees,” Gandolfi adds. “We are here to embrace, train, and teach the community that everyone has a right to work, despite any disability they may have. Megan and everyone at Kent State Geauga have been so supportive and compassionate, developing a natural partnership with us. We’re excited for the future.”
As this partnership progresses, Krippel hopes to see more ESC students training and working on the Geauga Campus. She says, “We love the program, and we will accept as many students as the ESC would like to offer!”