By Suzanne Robitaille
Internships are a cornerstone of a student’s college experience, but only a few programs exist to place students with disabilities. One notable front-runner is Emerging Leaders, which finds and places qualified college and graduate students with disabilities into paid summer internships throughout Corporate America.
In 2009, more than 100 students competed for internships at MetLife, CIT, JPMorgan Chase, Mutual of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Shell. The students were selected from a pool of nearly 100 qualified applicants from colleges and universities across the country. As part of the application process, students had to have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit an essay on how living with a disability has had an impact on their lives.
At a recent gathering at MetLife in New York City, the Class of 2009 shared their experiences and heard from the program’s benefactors. The students had just completed a rigorous two-day leadership development conference in New York, with facilitators from L’Oreal, MetLife, Prudential, and UBS.
“Only half of disabled college graduates secure employment, and they are often underemployed — working at jobs for which they are overqualified, unrelated to their degrees, or in temporary or part-time jobs,” says Edmund Cortez, President of Just One Break (JOB), the organization that runs the Emerging Leaders program. “We’re working to change that,” he adds.
“This is a truly fulfilling partnership for all involved,” says Felipe Botero, Vice President of MetLife Technology and Operations. “Particularly for MetLife, who has had and continues to have a commitment to helping the families of people with disabilities through its MetDESK [special needs planning] program.”
Jimmy Curran, a finance major who is entering his junior year at Temple University and interned this summer at CIT Transportation Finance in New York City, said the internship and conference provided the class with “invaluable knowledge on integrating ourselves into the workforce effectively, and an opportunity to network with leaders in our respective fields.”
Emerging Leaders was founded by consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton, and now has more than 30 corporate members, including AIG, KPMG, Liz Claiborne and Procter & Gamble. It has placed 75 students in summer internships since 2005. Booz Allen’s efforts to hire people with disabilities began when chairman and CEO, Ralph Shrader, who has a son with disabilities, recognized how difficult it was for people with disabilities to find meaningful work.
As the program grew in popularity, the National Business & Disability Council took over in 2005 to help make internship opportunities available to a greater number of qualified students. Today, Emerging Leaders is a program of Just One Break (JOB), an organization that brings together returning veterans with disabilities and proactive employers seeking qualified workers. JOB is part of the Abilities! family of services, and runs a number of other programs to help people with disabilities succeed in the workplace.
“Emerging Leaders is much more than a summer internship program for the firm,” says Michael Fields, Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton. “ It has become a valuable source of future hires, with eight Emerging Leaders alumni working in fields like information technology, strategy and leadership, and operations.”