For the first time, 18-year-old Cheyanne Wilson says she feels noticed for who she really is—and encouraged to become all that she can be.
“I always felt different my whole life—this is the first time that people look at me like I’m a person,” said Cheyanne, who is spending the school year as a Penn State Health intern through Project Search, a program with more than 500 sites across the globe that teaches students with disabilities transferrable, marketable skills in a real work setting.
The Harrisburg youth is challenged by her internship in the Penn State College of Medicine Clinical Simulation Center and excited about upcoming internships in endoscopy and patient transport before she walks across the stage in Junker Auditorium at the Project Search graduation in May.
“Everyone here takes time to help me learn and not just push me through to get me out of here,” Cheyanne said. “Project Search has helped me a lot.”
Cheyanne and eight other students from area school districts served by the Capital Area Intermediate Unit meet every weekday morning in the Project Search classroom, located on the ground floor of Penn State College of Medicine with instructor Ann Vacchiano before heading off to their internships.
“Part of the program includes learning soft skills that are needed to be successful in a job—things like communication, taking initiative, elevator etiquette,” Vacchiano said.
The program, now in its fourth year at Penn State Health, provides students with three internship experiences within 18 departments. They may clean mannequins in the simulation lab, restock café items in food services or prepare tubes in endoscopy. Mentors from each department are paired with each student.
“It’s important from Penn State Health’s perspective to look at the diversity in our organization, and this program promotes that,” said Danielle Iovino, Penn State Health human resources business partner and the business liaison to Project Search. “Four years ago, we had six departments involved. Now departments are coming to us, asking how they can be involved.”
The program benefits Penn State Health by fostering partnerships with school districts and local employers, and it has provided some great employees to Penn State Health, Iovino said. At least one intern from each class has been hired upon graduating.
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