Western Nevada News & Notes: Carson City’s WNC’s ‘Career Connect’ helps students with disabilities | NevadaAppeal.com

Western Nevada News & Notes: Carson City’s WNC’s ‘Career Connect’ helps students with disabilities

Steve Yingling
For the Nevada Appeal

WNC Career Connect Coordinator Skylar DePedro.

Students with disabilities who attend Western Nevada College are about to receive a career game-changer. Beginning this month, they will be eligible for the college's new CareerConnect program, which will focus on job placement and job retention.

CareerConnect was created through a partnership between the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) and the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), to support college completion and employment for students with disabilities.

WNC's goal is to assist at least 20 students in the first year, and 75 students by the third year.

At WNC, Skylar DePedro will help students with disabilities enhance their chances of finding employment in the area.

"We are taking it to the next step. We are helping the students when they are in school, but also in the transition from school to the workplace," DePedro said.

"We are going to help them with job placement, job retention skills, interview skills, resume writing and more. I'm going to be a strong advocate for the students, working with the employers in the local community to dispel those myths that surround people with disabilities in the workplace."

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In launching CareerConnect, DePedro will work closely with Susan Trist, WNC's coordinator of Disability Support Services. By mid-March, their offices will be operating in the Cedar Building, offices 209-214, on the Carson City campus.

"The population that the program serves can find it difficult to find work," Trist said. "These enhanced services are going to be extremely beneficial to this population. It's great for a community college setting."

Through its partnership with the Department of Education, Training and Rehabiltation, WNC's CareerConnect program can receive $3 in federal funding for every $1 of state funding or staff time.

"We are excited about this new partnership," DePedro said.

Marcia Turner, vice chancellor of Health Sciences for the Nevada System of Higher Education, lauded the teamwork that it took to develop the programs at WNC and Truckee Meadows Community College, the only Nevada colleges offering the CareerConnect program.

"We wish to congratulate this team, which included Joan Steinman from TMCC, Susan Trist from WNC, and Dennis Perea, Shelley Hendren and Janice John from DETR, and thank them all for their dedication to this exciting new program," Turner said.

To qualify for vocational rehabilitation, a person must have a chronic disability — a long-term physical or mental impairment — that's documented by a doctor, K-12 school district or Nevada's Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. VR and WNC will collaborate to pinpoint students who will be eligible to participate in the new CareerConnect program. Participants must be attending at least one class at any WNC campus, center or web-based course in Carson City, Minden, Fallon, Fernley or Yerington.

"Collaboration with VR makes sense for the community college; we're serving the same individuals," Trist said. "The enhanced services are going to be invaluable to our students in their efforts to seek employment."

DePedro said studies have shown students with disabilities can be valuable employees. A 2007 study by DePaul University in Chicago found employees with disabilities were just as reliable as employees without disabilities. Researchers also learned employees with disabilities had nearly identical job performance ratings as employees without disabilities, supervision was similar, and employees in certain job sectors stayed on the job longer. The study also found only a few special accommodations were necessary to employ a person with a disability and the average cost of those needs was $313.

"Basically, there's an untapped talent pool that we want to bring to the attention of employers for recruiting and retaining people with disabilities to counter the effects of an aging and shrinking workforce," DePedro said.

Students who seek services at WNC will initially meet with DePedro and explore their career goals.

"If there is a service they need, if they're not sure what they want to major in or what they want to do for work, that is something I can help them with," said DePedro, who spent eight years working as vocational evaluator and rehabilitation counselor for the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and for the past two years as a vocational evaluator in Reno.

She will also work closely with DETR-VR counselors throughout the referral, eligibility, planning and follow-up steps to ensure coordinated service will lead to successful employment outcomes.

DePedro said CareerConnect's role isn't finished once students become employed. She will also monitor students' progress and help them use the strategies learned from the program to increase their chances of retaining employment.

For more information about CareerConnect, contact DePedro at 775-445-3248 or skylar.depedro@wnc.edu.