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Tykiah Wright is the Executive Director and founder of WrightChoice Intern Program, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio

Explain Wrightchoice and the mission of the program?

Wrightchoice is a nonprofit organization and the mission of the organization is building a bridge between resource and opportunity for minority students and students with disabilities. The mission is a two-side mission, one side we work with the companies, and then the other side we work with the students. I always view the program as a coin; you have to be able to impact both sides in order for the doors to be open for the internship opportunities to happen. So from an internship perspective, we create opportunities, we recruit, we develop, and we link the students with meaningful internship opportunities. And from an employer’s side, we work with companies to make sure they understand the needs of people with disabilities in the workforce; so they can open up their door and create more opportunities for workforce inclusion.

Can you define internships more specifically?

An internship is a work experience, but not just any work experience, and it is a work experience that directly relates to whatever the student’s major is, and it’s a work experience that the student will gain mentors, they will gain real world experience, they gain hands on experience, and more importantly it’s an opportunity for them to apply textbook knowledge to a real life setting. So internships are very very important to the success of a college graduate.

Do individuals with disabilities frequently have access to internships?

No, and that is why I created the organization. Individuals with disabilities, especially when we talk about transitioning to college, they often times are focused on the transition piece, education, education, education. Because the transition piece can be sometimes overwhelming they really don’t think about the intern piece. And I tell students all the time, that when you graduate you have to be two hundred times better than the next person, especially with the economy the way that it is, students need to prepare themselves because employers are looking for experience coupled with that education. So I tell them a college degree is not your ticket to success anymore, you have to have experience along with that degree.

In general, what are employers looking for in employees?

Employers are looking for communication, students to have communication skills, that is actually the number one skill that employers are looking for out of college graduates. Teamwork, the ability towork together on a team, tjey’re looking for individuals who are goal orientated, who are excited about what they’re doing and passionate about the job. But that number one skill that employers are looking for, that students often time lack, is the ability to communicate effectively.

You have discussed in general the importance of internships. For students with disabilities why are internships especially important?

For students with disabilities internships are important because they need every advantage that they can get to succeed. First of all to get their foot in the door in the workforce. People with disabilities overall have high unemployment rates and low wages. So in order to combat that, students need to gain that experience prior to graduation. Again, you have to be prepared for the workforce; employers are looking for experienced individuals. But in order to have that experience upon graduation, employers have to give that experience while they’re in school. So it’s important for students with disabilities to also understand what type of accommodations am I going to need when I go to work? What type of adjustments will I need for my workstation, what types of adjustments will I need maybe to my schedule, so they need to understand that before they go into the work setting because when you talk about accommodations it’s not up to the employer to ask a student what type of accommodations they’ll need, it’s up to the employee to know what type of needs and what type of accommodations will help them perform the essential job functions of their job.

What does the job market look like for graduates with disabilities?

There is a statistic out there that says of fifty percent of college graduates with disabilities are still unemployed. And that is amazing, but when you think about a students going to college, getting their education, and successfully graduating, and they still can’t find a job. You have to kind of look at the other factors in that statistic; I believe one factor is students need internship experience, because it’s true that employers are looking for experience. So students with disabilities need to graduate with the appropriate experience to be competitive against their counter parts. Then the other side of that is employers need to understand that there is an untapped resource out there of people with disabilities, and they need to know how to capture that market. You know, we are approaching a shrinking workforce age, there’s all this buzz about a workers shortage and a labor shortage, and that’s because the baby boomers are retiring and generation X didn’t produce enough babies. So companies need to strategically position themselves to tap into an untapped workforce, and that’s people with disabilities, and why not start with internships?

(Interviewer states, “I would image that internships provide individuals/students to not only learn about the general job but about the social aspects of a work situation).

For individuals with autism would the internships provide opportunities to experience those social aspects and expectations prior to applying or looking at opportunities?

Definitely, definitely, individuals with autism are high skills individuals, but important piece to that would be to identify employers who understand the dynamics of individuals with autism, so that they can put in place the proper setting for individuals with autism to come into the workforce, but not only come in but to also excel in what they’re doing. So the key factor to that is make sure that we identify the appropriate employers that can foster the growth and development of that individual.

Can you give us some tips on how one might locate an exciting and appropriate internship possibilities?

Sure, college students are on campus all day long, all campuses have career services departments that promote internship opportunities for students. Then they also have the office of disability services, often times disability service offices get internship opportunities that are specifically geared towards that population. So they want to make sure that they check with career services, but more importantly check with their office of disability services to see what other type of resources are out there.

What if someone is not going on to college, are there any situations where looking for an internship or a volunteer situation might help obtain employment?

Yes, for individuals who are not going on to college, volunteering is so crucial, it is a way to build your resume, it is a way to network. We talk to our students all the time about the importance of networking. The importance of building that spider web of influence on the community. So if you’re not going on to college, then while you’re in high school it is important to take advantage of community service activities, to take advantage of community based volunteer activities, whether it’s church activities or social groups. Those type of settings will allow the student to network and spread their wings so they can understand who’s out there, because most jobs are obtained by who you know, and not what you know. There’s also a phenomenal program that is statewide in Ohio called the Ohio High School High Tech Program, and that program is for high school students with disabilities who are interested in the STEM careers, and when we say STEM we meant science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That is all the buzz around the state of Ohio and business and industry today. So if there is student who are interested in the STEM program, and getting into careers that relate to science, whether you’re going to college or whether you’re just going straight into the industry straight out of high school, that is a dynamic program to get in touch with, and you actually can find out more about that program at www.ohsht.org, it stands for Ohio high school high tech, or you can link to it through our website as well

If someone is interested in WrightChoice and working with WrightChoice how soon should they contact you?

We work with students from freshman year and the up through college, even some graduate school students. But it’s important to contact us as soon as possible; because the more experience that you can have and build your resume the better. And we’re simply located on the web, we know that students now a days are so technologically savvy, so our web address is www.wrightchoice.org.

What can one expect from an internship?

Internships are learning experiences. Whether you find out you’re excited about that career and you know that is exactly what you want to do, or it’s also meant for finding out if that’s not what you want to do, and we’ve had students that have experienced both sides. We’ve had some students who said you know I want to be an event planner, so we put them in an internship with a major event planner in the city of Columbus, after the summer was over they said I do not want to do event planning, and that was a good experience because she found out that that was not the area that she wanted to go in prior to graduation. Then we also had an experience with a young man who just needed to understand the professional development side a little bit more, when we talk about etiquette in the workplace, don’t use your cell phone, iron your clothes, come to work on time. The internship that he was in was definitely a learning experience and he’ll tell you today that through the leaning experience he has grown tremendously and he understands what it is to be a professional in the workplace now.