On April 30, students with disabilities from UMSL Succeed and local high schools eagerly logged into Zoom to learn about employers and employment support providers in the St. Louis region.
The Succeed Program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis partnered with St. Louis Arc and the Special School District of St. Louis County, known as the SSD, to organize the virtual 2021 Vocational Expo.
The event was tied to UMSL Succeed’s recent $2.1 million Department of Education TPSID grant. The grant aims to expand Succeed’s two-year postsecondary program, which is designed to teach students with intellectual and developmental disabilities independent living, academic and job skills.
One of the objectives of the grant is to enhance the program’s existing partnerships. In particular, UMSL Succeed is working to enhance their partnerships with the St. Louis Arc and Special School District.
“This is one of the first big events we’ve hosted together for the grant,” said Magen Rooney-Kron, grant and research coordinator for UMSL Succeed. “The vocational expo is an annual event that we expanded significantly with our grant partners this year. In addition to the vocational expo, St. Louis Arc provides family mentorship sessions and virtual coaching for students. SSD is also collaborating with us on streamlining person-centered planning for students transitioning to post-secondary education.”
Despite the many moving pieces involved, the event was a resounding success. Rooney-Kron said it drew about 100 attendees, including employers and employment support providers, local high school students, educators and UMSL Succeed students.
Employers in attendance included Enterprise, Lowes, Mercy Hospital St. Louis and Midas Hospitality. Employment support providers included Arc Transition Services, Paraquad, Starkloff Disability Institute and UMSL Career Services.
Each employer held a 30-minute informational session about their organization and potential job openings. Additionally, representatives from employment support providers led break-out rooms to discuss the types of employment services they provide.
Before the event, students received a vocational guide. It included a detailed schedule of the event’s sessions to help students plan for the expo. Rooney-Kron said the guide also included sample questions to ask employers and support providers as well as a guided reflection for students to complete afterward.
One of the goals of the expo was to promote student choice and to encourage meaningful interactions with employers and employment support providers.
“I think the teachers appreciated that,” Rooney-Kron said. “It wasn’t just going to an event. It gave students the chance to learn and think about what types of jobs and job supports they may personally want. It also let them make choices about which employers and support providers they were most interested in talking to.”
The response from employers was positive, as well. On the day of the event, Rooney-Kron said that employers expressed excitement about sharing information about their companies and interacting with the students.
For some students, the interactions helped them learn about different types of jobs. Other students used the vocational expo as an opportunity to connect with employers they want to work for in the near future.
“It was both an exploration experience for some students, but also got the ball rolling for students who are interested in applying for jobs right now,” Rooney-Kron said.
Bringing together local high school students and UMSL Succeed students was another crucial aspect of the event. UMSL Succeed intentionally partnered with the SSD to promote the idea that all students with disabilities can attend college.
“We really just want to open that possibility – that post-secondary education is an option for all students,” Rooney-Kron said. “One of our sessions was actually hosted by UMSL Succeed students. They had their own breakout room where they could talk to local high school students about what they were learning at Succeed and what they liked about the program.”
Rooney-Kron said the partners plan on repeating the event next spring, though hopefully in person. Regardless of the format, it was exciting to connect students with employers and employer support providers.