Next Move @ W&M makes an impactful return to campus after COVID
Next Move @ W&M began in 2019 but was derailed the next year by the global pandemic. It has since received the School of Education Dean’s Innovation Grant and was able to continue its research program this past summer. A 10-week employment training program for 18–35-year-olds with disabilities, Next Move @ W&M offers participants 20 hours a week of job readiness and skills training at the School of Education and then an additional 10 hours per week of on-the-job training at job sites around campus.
Where other adult education programs provide training and instruction, Next Move @ W&M is special, because it offers its participants opportunities to practice what they have learned. Next Move @ W&M interns are placed at job sites across campus and work alongside employees and student workers in an inclusive environment. During the classroom instruction portion of the program, participants learn job skills, social skills, life skills, and program values. They participate in mock interviews to practice interviewing skills and participate in field trips into the local community to practice life skills.
Heartley Huber, principal investigator for Next Move @ W&M and associate professor of special education, shares, “Many interns come with little or no work experience especially because volunteer opportunities were limited in schools during the pandemic. We carve out unique jobs for them in different places across campus and offer opportunities for ownership over their job. My hope and dream is for long-term sustainability. Ideally, I would love to see this as an employment pathway on campus. This is a new element of inclusion on campus, and we can rethink how we can integrate, support, and employ individuals with disabilities.” The program is run entirely by the W&M community, with W&M students, from undergrads to doctoral students, serving as job coaches, teachers, and researchers.
The Next Move @ W&M program, while training interns, serves as a research study to establish the effectiveness of the program’s model. The results from this summer show there was significant improvement across all participants based on training skills and job tasks. “There was an increase in self-confidence, where interns felt empowered to own their jobs because they were given the space to prove it and own it” shares Huber.
Lead teacher for the program and current doctoral candidate, Heather Kennedy, Ph.D. ’24 shares “I saw a huge amount of growth from the beginning to the end of the summer. The interns were able to learn skills that can transfer to other job and community opportunities. For some, it was their first job opportunity and this program helped students master and make progress on those job skills.”
“My favorite part of being a Next Move @ W&M intern was meeting new people and going to the Wellness Center every day for my internship. I learned a lot and it helped me be a better person and get better at computers” shares a Summer ’23 Next Move @ W&M Intern.
The program is beneficial to both the local community and William & Mary. “It benefits adults in our community who have graduated and need an opportunity. The program has also been important for our school divisions as we help better prepare students for independence in the work force. This model can serve our local school districts through partnerships, as well as those no longer participating in school-based employment training” shares Huber. “The interns did real jobs that needed to be completed and took on responsibilities from others” comments Kennedy, “There is value in any community that gives power to those marginalized. Those with disabilities are often not in the workplace, so this program benefits them and the people they work with.”
Parents of a Summer ’23 Intern commented on the positive impacts they noticed in their son because of participation in the program, “We noticed more confidence. He got better at eye contact and public speaking. He seemed excited to learn new things, especially at his internship site. It provided a sense of community and friendships, and he came away with a sense of accomplishment.”
As a final reflection, Kennedy shares, “Next Move @ W&M is a really important program that is filling a gap for young adults for when they graduate and transition into the world. It allows them to be a contributing member of the workforce. I enjoyed getting to know these interns and see them work all over campus. It fills your heart to see people succeed and know you helped them succeed.”
The School of Education Dean’s Innovation Grant
With generous support from the Jennings Family, the School of Education Dean's Innovation Fund was established in 2020, and provides funding to advance the school’s strategic priorities. Through a peer reviewed grant application process, the Dean’s Innovation Fund annually supports projects designed by faculty to expand the school’s impact on the lives of children and families through innovative partnerships.