Seven interns graduate from WVU Hospitals’ Project SEARCH program

WVU Hospitals celebrated its fourth graduating class of Project SEARCH interns on Wednesday. Seven students completed this year’s program and six attended the ceremony to receive their certificates. 

 Project SEARCH, WVUH explains, was first established at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996. It’s an internship experience for high school seniors or recently graduated students with mild and moderate disabilities. WVUH is the first and only site in West Virginia to host the program. 

 Once accepted into the program, student interns report to WVUH instead of their home school district classroom for the entire school year. They gain real-world employment experience rotating through job roles and departments. Project SEARCH serves as the student interns’ capstone educational experience and often leads to employment once the internships are complete. 

 There are 714 SEARCH programs in 48 states and 10 countries; 43,571 young adults have participated. 

 This is WVUH’s fourth class. The first three produced 25 graduates. Of those, 24 are employed, with 22 working at WVUH. All make above minimum wage, most have benefits, and all from the first three classes have received raises, some have received promotions. Thirty WVUH departments participated as hosts, mentoring the interns in the skills and duties of their departments. 

 Colleen Sybert, WVUH vice president of Human Resources and Project SEARCH executive sponsor, called the program “total workplace immersion,” aiming for competitive job placement. 

 WVUH President and Chief Administrative Officer Michael Grace congratulated and praised the interns. “Today marks the culmination of a journey that has been filled with determination, perseverance and dedication,” he said. 

 SEARCH provides more than just internships, he said. It’s aimed at fostering independence and empowerment, breaking down barriers and creating pathways to meaningful employment in the community. 

 And of the 22 working at WVUH, “They are valuable, extremely viable members of our workforce.”  

The next class will double in size, he said, to 12 interns. 

 Cindy Beneke, Project SEARCH statewide coordinator, said it took about 10 years to get the program off the ground. It got started in 2020 just in time for COVID. Despite that, “this program persevered. Nothing could stop it. Nothing could stop these individuals from succeeding.”  

She’s hoping that  more programs are started in West Virginia, she said. 

 The graduating class:  

Brian Blackwood graduated from Fairmont Senior High School. He has accepted a position with Environmental Services at WVU Hospitals. 

 Makia “Kia” Bowen graduated from East Fairmont High School. She has accepted a position at Owlet Daycare in Fairmont. 

 Dylan Daughtery was a home school student. He has accepted a position as a hand hygiene observer at WVUH. 

 Hayden Hamon is a graduate of Morgantown High School. He has accepted a position as a hand hygiene observer and as a pharmacy tech at WVUH. 

 Kwasi Lawer-Yolar is a graduate of University High School. He has accepted a position in Nutrition Services at WVUH. 

James “Jimmy” Saucer graduated from Preston County High School. He has accepted a position in Central Transport at WVUH. 

 Jana Fletcher is a graduate of Morgantown High School. She has accepted a position on 10 West as a clinical associate. 

 Jenny Pettry, imaging supervisor in WVUH radiology, was named Mentor of the Year. And Nutrition Services, which employs four SEARCH graduates, was named Department of the Year.