Project SEARCH works


Intern Cassandra Batcher, employed by Project SEARCH, organizes files in HR at DMACC.

By Nevin Cornwell.

Six DMACC interns meet every morning at 9 a.m. in a conference room in Building 24. They go over the schedule for the day’s work, make plans for completing tasks, and then head off to start their workday.

The situation seems normal for any business as big as DMACC, but there is one thing that makes the situation unique. The six interns have intellectual or mental disabilities that keep them from being hired outright for most jobs. That is where Project SEARCH and DMACC come together to help out.

Project SEARCH is a young adult internship program. It puts special needs clients that have a high school diploma or GED into a internship program in real working environments.

Four-year universities and hospitals are traditional places where Project SEARCH have hosted the internships. Beginning last May Project SEARCH started a branch at Ankeny DMACC; the first time it has been tried on a community college campus in the country. According to Sally Schroeder, dean of health and public services, the program is very successful.

“It’s just been fantastic. We have concentrated on what they can do, not what they can’t do,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder oversees three of the six internships currently working with Project SEARCH; one in her office, one in the campus nurse’s office and one in Early Childhood Development.

Schroeder’s interns get some of the most face time with students.

The interns are considered DMACC employees and they rotate through internships over the course of nine months. Beginning in May they worked in Human Resources, at the president’s office, for the Physical Plant, with the IT department, in Early Childhood Development, the nurse’s office, and in the dean of public health and services office.

The program is on its second internship and the Physical Plant has been replaced with the DMACC Café. The café was not busy enough during the summer semester to require an intern.

Project SEARCH is hosted by Easter Seals, a not for profit that helps children and adults with disabilities.

Dave Morgan is the Desktop and Media Services Specialist. His area of the IT department is responsible for maintaining all IT related equipment on campus. His department is on it’s second intern from project SEARCH.

“These guys are great. A lot of what they do needs to be done but we don’t have the resources to do it,” Morgan said.

Things like testing memory, hard drives, and data cables. With 2,500 computers on the Ankeny campus these task add up.

“A lot of stuff is start a test and walk away so it consumes time,” Morgan said.

They can work behind the scenes, sorting through old computer equipment. They make sure when Morgan or others on his team get to equipment that needs repair they the have working pieces to fix the equipment.

At the Early Childhood Development they help prepare meals with the cook, serves them to the children, clean up after meals, and work as a nap aid.  At Human Resources they help sort files, alphabetically or by date, to get them ready for scanning. Campus-wide they answer phones, rake leaves, mulch flower beds, make beds, prepare mailings and much more.

The program aims at helping the interns develop on-the-job skills; especially what are called “soft skills.” Soft skills are things like attendance; you need to be at work everyday, being courteous to co-workers, and being a team player.

“They really are a part of us. That’s the way it should be,” Schroeder said.

The program is a win-win for DMACC. It helps our local community and gives the college nine months to work with and evaluate the interns and the interns to evaluate us.

According to Schroeder only a few positions are in the academics area of DMACC and they have done a great job in those areas.

“Other academic areas would benefit because we have benefitted a lot,” Schroeder said.


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