Maryellen Daston, Ph.D., has a background in biomedical research and technical writing. As a researcher, she specialized in developmental neuroscience. But when she started working for Project SEARCH®, her focus shifted from cells in a dish to the development of the whole person. As part of the Project SEARCH team, Maryellen is responsible for editing and writing content for the Project SEARCH web site, articles for professional journals, grant proposals, and other communications—including the recently published book, High School Transition that Works: Lessons Learned from Project SEARCH (Brookes Publishing Co.).
Erin Riehle, M.S.N., is a recognized authority and national leader in promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. She is a founder and Senior Director of Project SEARCH, an employment and transition program that has received national recognition for innovative practices. When she started Project SEARCH, Erin was a nurse manager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her motivation was to offer people with disabilities (who made up a significant portion of the hospital’s patient volume) the same opportunities for training and employment that were available to everyone else. She brought a business perspective to the field of disability education, as well as an ability to bring organizations together for a shared purpose.
Susie Rutkowski, M.Ed., is the Co-Director and Educational Specialist for Project SEARCH. She is a nationally recognized transition expert with specific experience in program development in career technical education and job development for young adults with disabilities. She served as the Manager for Disability Education at Great Oaks Career Campuses for over 12 years. During that tenure she, along with Erin Riehle, cofounded Project SEARCH. Susie has been instrumental in designing the Project SEARCH Training Institute modules and leading replication efforts for new Project SEARCH sites. She speaks and writes on transition-related topics.
“Rachel” was born with Down syndrome. As she approached the transition from high school to adult life, she and her family were faced with many hard questions and difficult decisions about what her next steps should be. Rachel wasn’t able to read, write, or count to 10, so it was not clear to those close to her how she would achieve any level of independence or become a contributing member of her community.
The hope for most typically abled high school graduates is that they will find gainful employment, or go on to college or other post-secondary training that will ultimately lead to a good job. When a young person becomes employed, they get the obvious advantage of improved financial circumstances. But even more importantly, they also benefit from the fulfillment, maturity, and sense of belonging that comes with meaningful work. Unfortunately, young people like Rachel with intellectual and developmental disabilities encounter more than the usual obstacles in getting to this significant milestone. The result is chronically high levels of unemployment for this population throughout their lives. For example, in 2008, the employment rate was 39.1% for people with disabilities and of working age (18–64 years), as compared with 77.7% employment for people within the same age group but without disabilities 1. From year to year, the size of this gap remains roughly the same, regardless of the state of the economy.