UAMS, Project SEARCH Celebrate Decade of Partnership, 10th Graduating Class

By Ben Boulden

Project SEARCH Arkansas ACCESS Initiative in partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitative Services (ARS) is a nine-month internship program for young adults with developmental disabilities. Interns participate in the program and work in various departments with the goal of gaining necessary skills to obtain competitive employment. Six of this year’s eight graduates already have secured employment in a variety of occupations.

“As we finish the 10th year of Project SEARCH, we can say that nearly 80% of the more than 97 interns have completed the program with jobs waiting for them, including many who found full-time employment with benefits,” UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, said. “Two inaugural class members continue to be valuable members of Team UAMS.”

Judy Smith, director of Transition Services Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and statewide coordinator for Project SEARCH Arkansas, recalled the origins of Project SEARCH 10 years ago. She said the idea for the Arkansas program was born when Jenny Adams, now director of Project SEARCH Arkansas ACCESS Initiative, and Odette Woods, J.D., attended a conference and heard a presentation from one of the founders of the national program.

Chancellor Cam Patterson presented awards of appreciation to Odette Woods, Judy Smith, and Jenny Adams.

Chancellor Cam Patterson presented awards of appreciation to Odette Woods, Judy Smith, and Jenny Adams. Image by Evan Lewis

Woods is the senior director of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Adams and Woods brought the idea back home and started discussions with co-workers and potential program partners.

“Dr. Patterson, what you need to know is we didn’t get that yes until the leadership found out that UAMS had said yes,” Smith said. “When they found out that UAMS said yes, it made it much easier for me, and everyone else that helped to get the other businesses to say yes across the state.”

Doreen Mattes, human resources director for the City of Maumelle, was the keynote speaker at the graduation. Maumelle also employs Project SEARCH interns. She said she became familiar with the program and with interns working at the City of Little Rock, where she worked at the time. When she went to Maumelle, she made it a goal to include interns there, too.

“I am happy to report that all five of them are still employees of the City of Maumelle,” Mattes said.

There they have performed a variety of duties from clerical duties and grounds and maintenance to senior services and public works.

“Why do I love this program so much? It’s so easy to hire Project SEARCH graduates,” Mattes said to the 2023 graduates. “You guys are amazing. It’s just this simple. They come to us with the hard skills we as employers need. And, the soft skills that we want. That’s not something that a lot of other programs teach.”

Those soft skills include things like punctuality and being courteous to others. She added that some college and high school graduates don’t always seem to have those soft skills.

LeAnn Robertson, UAMS Project SEARCH instructor/coordinator, introduced the 2023 graduates as they received their certificates. They are:

  • Abigail “Abby” Bogoslavsky
  • Chase Canterbury
  • Courtney Carroll
  • Colby Fountain
  • Ranal Freeman II
  • John Goshien (absent)
  • Carson Patty
  • Jakiyah Williams

Each graduate described in what departments and offices they had worked at UAMS, what their responsibilities were, and also thanked their mentors.

“At Project SEARCH, I have learned how to be more confident, be patient and how to take initiative,” Fountain said. “I have learned how to read social cues and not interrupt. I am grateful to this to Project SEARCH for teaching me the new skills I need for getting and keeping a job.  The skills trainers make you feel at ease. I really liked meeting new people.”

Near the end of his remarks, Freeman mentioned he is now working as an instrument technician at The Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital at UAMS. Robertson said Goshien is employed at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in passenger transportation.

Earlier in the ceremony, Patterson recognized Woods, Smith and Adams with awards for the “hard work and dedication they have poured into this program for the last decade.”