Gov. Beebe Cheers Young Adults Gaining Work Experience in UAMS Project SEARCH

By Nate Hinkel

The 12 interns in UAMS Project SEARCH — a partnership between UAMS, ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services — started working jobs in patient transport, nutrition services, central supply, the mailroom, human resources and other areas in mid-August. Gov. Mike Beebe, UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., and leaders from ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services praised the interns and program during an Oct. 1 celebration.

UAMS Project SEARCH, the first program of its kind at an Arkansas university, was modeled after the internationally successful Project SEARCH program started at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. A co-founder of the original program, Susie Rutkowski, M.Ed., co-founder of Project SEARCH International, also attended along with the interns, family members, UAMS coworkers and mentors.

“Not only will these young adults be ready for careers after working with Project SEARCH, they’ll also pave the way to success for other disabled Arkansans who are ready and willing to work,” Gov. Mike Beebe said. “This partnership between UAMS, ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services further enriches the lives of these interns and the strength of our state’s workforce.”

Andrew Aston, 24, a UAMS Project SEARCH intern working in patient transport, spends each day making sure wheelchairs are available for UAMS patients, delivering them to patient rooms or to the patient intake or discharge areas or to other places patients need to go. “I love it. I’ve learned so much about helping patients and taking them where they need to go. It’s an amazing experience,” Aston said about his job.
“The interns are approaching their work with such enthusiasm and commitment that it really drives home the value of UAMS Project SEARCH both in preparing them for jobs after their internship and helping UAMS provide patient- and family-centered care and exceptional service to our institution,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D.

UAMS serves as the host business for the program, providing entry-level work experiences that match each intern’s skills. ACCESS staff members meet the interns daily for vocational instruction, job coaching and lessons in independent living skills. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services is providing financial support for the program, applied directly to vocational education and career development.

“When we heard about the Project SEARCH program, we knew it was something we wanted to bring to central Arkansas,” said Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director. “With the help of UAMS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, we are providing young Arkansans with disabilities with a proven program for on-the-job training and the support they need to achieve their employment goals.”

Added Bill Walker, director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education: “This collaboration to establish UAMS Project SEARCH has blossomed beautifully for all involved and is a template we can build on to prepare more Arkansans with disabilities to work and lead productive and independent lives.”

The interns work with a team that includes their families, an instructor, vocational advisor and job coach along with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services counselors to create employment goals and support interns during the transition to work. The goal is to help participants build competitive, marketable and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related job upon completion of the internship.

Founded in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown to an international one-year internship program for individuals with developmental disabilities who desire sustainable, competitive employment. Its proven training and employment model is used in more than 150 licensed programs spanning 42 states, four countries and multiple industries.

UAMS Project SEARCH interns were selected for the program following interviews with a selection committee made up of representatives from the three organizations. Eligibility criteria include having an intellectual disability, developmental disability and/or a referral from Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; a high school diploma, GED or certificate of completion; appropriate social, communication and independent living skills for participation in a work program; and reliable transportation to and from work. The interns also met UAMS employment requirements such as immunizations, the ability to observe patient privacy rules, pre-employment drug screening and background checks.

Applications are now being accepted for the second UAMS Project SEARCH class that will begin in 2014. The applications can be found at The application deadline is Dec. 20, 2013.

ACCESS is a 501c3 nonprofit offering evaluation services, full-time education, therapy, training and activities for individuals ages 0-35 with developmental delays and learning disabilities. Founded in 1994, the center comprises ACCESS Preschool; ACCESS Academy (for kindergarten-age students through grade 12); ACCESS Therapy (including speech, physical and occupational therapy programs); ACCESS Tutoring; ACCESS Life (a young adults day program); and ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center (offering psychological and psychoeducational evaluations as well as technology training for students, parents and teachers). The center is located at 10618 Breckenridge Drive in Little Rock, Ark.

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services is a division of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. A network of 19 field offices serves individuals with disabilities in all 75 counties, as mandated by federal legislation. ARS also operates the Arkansas Career Training Institute (ACTI), which is a comprehensive rehabilitation center, one of eight in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi. ACTI is a residential facility that provides education and training, as well as medical services and other supports, to individuals with disabilities. The services that individuals with disabilities can receive through ARS include career counseling, assessment, postsecondary education, career and technical education, training, and medical services if it is determined that medical services will help a client find employment. Clients may also receive support services such as assistive technology, job placement services, employability skills instruction and coaching, and life skills instruction. High school students with disabilities are provided transition services to help them move successfully from high school to further education and training or jobs. For more information, visit the website at and click on the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services tab.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.