Every morning, six students from Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Education Services (TST BOCES) career skills program arrive on Cornell’s campus to expand their vocational skills through a hands-on program at the Statler Hotel.
The students are the first of what is hoped will be many participants in the newly formed partnership among TST BOCES, the Statler Hotel, the Cornell Public Service Center (PSC) and Helping Exceptional Youth (HEY), a PSC student organization that aims to raise awareness of special education programs in the Ithaca area and at Cornell.
The pilot project is an extension of TST BOCES half-day career skill program, which provides alternate schooling for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Students explore a variety of career and technical skills and appropriate work-related behaviors that are transferable to any job.
The new collaboration aims to use on-site training and real-world experience on Cornell’s campus to further the students’ exposure, and potentially provide internships and job placements for students after graduation. With Cathy Enz, the Lewis G. Schaeneman Jr. Professor of Innovation and Dynamic Management at the School of Hotel Administration, TST BOCES career skills special education teacher Brandy Nielsen, staff at the Statler Hotel and the Public Service Center, and student mentors from the HEY program, the team constructed a curriculum that allowed students to intern, explore and process what they were learning while getting exposure to hospitality industry jobs.
In a typical week, TST BOCES students meet with HEY mentors at the PSC on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. HEY mentors assist students with building their career plans, reviewing what they are learning on campus, practicing interview skills and helping them put together personal digital portfolios.
On most Wednesdays, the students also visit sites to learn about different jobs on campus. They have visited Cornell Dining, Cornell Orchards and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences growth chambers and greenhouses to learn about plant care, and participated in other educational activities.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students practice their work skills in housekeeping and food service at the Statler Hotel. Students have also been working at the Plantations, and Cornell Dining has expressed interest in becoming a work site next year.
“There have been signs of huge growth among the students, both in their overall confidence and in their ability to navigate the complexity of different work environments with many different people who are not a part of their school day,” said Austin Fey, PreK-12 program coordinator at the PSC.
After completing their first semester this winter, TST BOCES students were invited to a breakfast at Statler’s Taverna Banfi to celebrate their achievements. As the spring semester comes to an end, the students will celebrate with an end-of-year gathering to present their portfolios to their families, and campus and community members, showcasing what they have learned over the year and educating Cornell employers how they can support inclusive hiring practices.
Hillary Landsman, a CALS senior, received an Ewing Family Service Award for her work as president of HEY, which will help fund future TST BOCES events. The celebration will take place Monday, May 9, at Appel Commons.
Maja Anderson is assistant director of communications and community relations for the Cornell Public Service Center and Engaged Learning and Research.