Students to prep youth with disabilities for employment

In 2018, professors Kelly Clark and Thomas Golden of the Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability were named Faculty Fellows in Engaged Learning – earning stipends to enhance the institute’s mission of creating courses that take Cornell students out of the classroom to grapple with real-world issues.

With their funding, Clark and Golden developed a partnership with the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (TST BOCES) to teach a new course, “It Takes Work: Innovations in Law and Practice to Advance Employment for Students with Disabilities.”

Kelly Clark

“Domestically, students and youth with disabilities are less likely to be employed, graduate and be economically self-sufficient than their non-disabled counterparts,” Golden said. “This is not an acceptable outcome in the 21st century.”

Thomas Golden

The course will be offered in fall 2020 in the Labor Relations, Law, and History Department at the ILR School and will review the foundations, laws, theories and practice that support the design, implementation and evaluation of inclusive work-based learning experiences.

“Currently, TST BOCES has a program at Cornell that prepares high school special education students for employment,” said Brandy Nielsen, a special education teacher at the Darwin C. Smith School in Ithaca, on the TST BOCES campus. “This new course will expand our assessment part of the curriculum to assist the BOCES students to define their interests and the skills needed for competitive employment.”

Students in this course will learn about approaches to creating inclusive work-based learning experiences, essential partnerships and collaborations with community stakeholders. An essential component of the course will be learning through engagement: Cornell students will be paired with “learning partners”: local secondary education students with disabilities who are preparing for transition to adulthood.

“Cornell students undertaking disability studies have a keen interest in working more directly with students with disabilities, and our students will have that opportunity to impact lives and our community,” Clark said. “And the learning partners, through their connection with Cornell students and the experiences they will have together, will gain skills, develop relationships and explore possible new futures.”

This course is designed in four components – Foundations, Law and Theories; Partnership and Collaboration; Strategies, Tools and Approaches; and Engagement and Reflection. Each phase is designed to yield specific learning outcomes.

Golden and Clark’s course represents perfectly the mission of the Engaged Faculty Fellows program, said Anna Sims Bartel, associate director of community-engaged curricula and practice for the Office of Engagement Initiatives.

“The best teaching, learning and research tends to come from people with a sense of agency and commitment around the public purpose of their work,” she said. “Professors Golden and Clark are modeling that beautifully.”

Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.

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Abby Butler