September 27, 2023

UMW Named Employer of the Year for Participation in Start on Success Program

Center for Community Engagement Director Sarah Dewees (center) accepts the Employer of the Year Award.

Center for Community Engagement Director Sarah Dewees (center) accepts the Employer of the Year Award.

In March, the University of Mary Washington received the Employer of the Year award from the Virginia Division on Career Development and Transition for its participation in Start on Success (SOS), a school-to-work program launched by the National Organization on Disability.

SOS uses early opportunity, close individual support and collaboration to prepare at-risk students for competitive employment and independent living. Participants continue on to postsecondary employment or education at a rate of 75 to 85% – three times higher than the overall rate for students with disabilities.

Starting with the 2021-22 academic year, UMW established a partnership with James Monroe High School (JM) for a paid internship program for high school seniors who receive services through an IEP and are on a path to complete a standard or advanced diploma, with paid internship experiences.

Selected students enroll in a credit-bearing Career and Technical Education course and then participate in a paid internship at a local business with an assigned mentor to assist with problem-solving, accommodations and applying workplace readiness skills. Students are carefully selected into the program in the spring of their junior year and receive classroom instruction to prepare them for field experiences in the fall of their senior year. Participants spend three hours a day, five days a week, at their placement, over the course of 16 weeks. They are accompanied on campus by the program coordinator who checks in regularly with each student.

During the 2022-23 school year, the UMW departments of Dining, Student Health and Facilities hosted seven students on the Mary Washington campus. UMW Dining hosted two students in 2023, providing them with a series of experiences related to marketing, customer service and hospitality.

“The University of Mary Washington staff have gone above and beyond with their mentorship role on the job site through encouragement and guidance,” said JM Special Education Job Coach Angela Poteet. “Your efforts did not end on the job site as you have supported students by attending their athletic events, stayed in touch after graduation and encouraged students to seek post-secondary education.”

Since its 1994 inception, the SOS program has been implemented in over a dozen cities around the U.S. and has served more than 4,000 students. Virginia piloted it in 2014 and has since successfully implemented this model in urban, rural and suburban communities. The JM Start on Success program is funded through the VCU Center on Transition Innovations.

Center for Community Engagement Director Sarah Dewees accepted the Employer of the Year award for UMW on April 4 at a Fredericksburg City School Board meeting.