University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies


Program Structure/Design: The Career Development Summer Program (CDSP) at the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies (the Center) is a seven-week summer program that provides work-based learning through a combination of internships, workplace visits, and a career development class. The program is open to youth with disabilities, ages 16 to 21, who are enrolled in the public school system and eligible for special education services. The summer of 2017 will be the program’s third season in operation.

The program is located on the university’s campus and internship sites are either on campus or within walking distance of the University. Although the program is not limited to local students, each student must travel to the daily sessions independently; as a result, most participants are from the surrounding county. Each year, after an application and interview process, ten students are selected to participate in the program.

States of Operation: Delaware
Profile Year: 2017


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning: Career development occurs through morning classes combined with internships and workplace site visits twice a week in the afternoons. Morning sessions consist of self-exploration and career exploration activities as well as career readiness and soft skills training. During class time, students have the opportunity to think about their interests and consider career options that may fit those interests. CDSP utilizes Delaware’s Career Compass guide to facilitate students’ career exploration related to 16 career clusters. Students learn about a variety of industries and what skills and training are required to work in those industries. Career readiness skills, such as timeliness, personal decision of disclosure, workplace attire, and professional interactions, are also discussed in morning sessions. The CDSP teachers have used the Brigance Transition Skills Curriculum, Life Centered Education (LCE) Transition Curriculum, and other curricula materials developed by the Center for Disabilities Studies as resources for creating class content.

In the afternoons, students apply the skills they are developing in the morning class as they participate in internships. Staff match each student with a local business or university office by using career interest information gathered during the interview process. Based on their interests, students are matched to a workplace where they spend three hours per day, twice a week completing a paid internship. Students receive a stipend equivalent to minimum wage. All internships are within walking distance of campus to ensure students can travel independently to their internships.

The Center develops potential internship sites based on the individual preferences of CDSP participants. The Center has facilitated a number of programs over the years that provide individuals with disabilities internships and other work-based learning experiences resulting in stronger relationships with employers. CDSP utilizes these employer relationships to secure summer internship placements. New internship sites are cultivated if the Center does not have an existing relationship with a site that would be a good match for a participant’s interest. Internships for this program are in offices on campus or other workplaces within walking distance of the campus to enable youth to travel independently. Some of the internship sites include a skateboard shop, the University Media Center, a Mexican restaurant, and the University’s Communications Department (in graphic design).

The program pairs each student with a job coach who accompanies him or her to the internship site and facilitates the development of skills needed to succeed at the worksite. Job coaches assist students in learning about workplace culture, developing self-advocacy skills, and gaining insight about their individual strengths and needs in the workplace. They also support the students and their supervisors in designing and implementing natural supports in the workplace that allow the student to be more successful without the job coach’s support. Over the course of the internship, job coaches gradually step back, while remaining onsite, as students become more independent, demonstrate progress in their skill-building and use more natural supports. The degree to which job coaches step back is based upon the needs of each student, and therefore, some students become more independent at their worksites than others after seven weeks.

Given the Center’s long history of collaboration with most employers, the program does not provide formal orientation or training to employer partners. Instead, the program provides individualized orientation and guidance for new worksite supervisors. CDSP gives new supervisors a general overview of the program and arranges a time for the students to introduce themselves. Depending on the supervisor’s level of experience working with students with disabilities, CDSP may offer guidance regarding the role of a job coach and how it differs from the role of a supervisor or coworker. While CDSP wants to maximize the use of a job coach, the supervisors are expected to directly interact and communicate with the CDSP interns in the same way that they do with other interns and employees.

Twice a week, students visit different businesses in the community for further career exploration and work-based learning. These visits occur on days when students are not working at their assigned internship worksite. These businesses are not limited to those within walking distance of campus, therefore the additional workplace visits provide students with exposure to a wider array of careers in the community. During these visits, students interview supervisors, staff, and other students to learn what each job entails, roles of different employees, and the training required for different positions. The cohort is divided into two groups and staggered so that half of the group participates in their internships while the other half are involved in workplace visits. Friday afternoons are designed to be fun and to help students develop a deeper knowledge of the skills necessary to independently engage in recreation activities in their community.

Through their internships, students experience what it is like to work in one of their career interest areas. Students practice career readiness skills while also learning about their work style, their strengths, and what accommodations or support they may need to perform their job responsibilities. An important part of any job is understanding how one works best and, through the CDSP program, students begin this exploration process. Learning about their work style and what various jobs require of their employees enables students to determine the type of work and work environments that would be a good match for them.

Individualized Planning: The CDSP is youth-centered and personalized to meet students’ individual needs and developmental stage. Personalized planning begins with the interview. After youth submit their applications, staff use the interview process to get to know each applicant and provide a chance for the youth to become familiar with the program and staff. Staff ask youth about their interests and what type of internship they may be interested in. This informs the program’s search for an internship site match.

Portfolios are another way the program personalizes the experience to students. Over the course of the seven weeks, youth work on a portfolio to showcase their experiences and the skills they have gained throughout the program. The portfolio is both a paper and an electronic document and typically includes a resume, letter of recommendation from the internship supervisor, pictures or videos detailing the work they completed in their internships, and cover letter for a future job that they want to pursue.

Through the internship and portfolio development process, youth learn to communicate with others about their work experiences and next steps they wish to pursue. As students discover their unique strengths and hone in on which career paths may or may not fit their specific goals and needs, they incorporate these findings into their portfolios to inform their individualized plans for the future. When youth go back to school or to their regular team of support, they can use their portfolio as they advocate for themselves and the path they would like to take. This portfolio can be a helpful tool for students as they navigate transition meetings and conversations with other service providers and as they apply for future internships and jobs.

Self-Advocacy Development: All youth who are accepted into the program arrive with some degree of independence. For example, youth spend some of their free time walking around the campus and exploring the University on their own. However, CDSP is designed to help youth become even more independent, partially through the development of self-advocacy skills. Through the variety of career development activities, youth reflect upon and develop their interests, career readiness skills, and values. They also become more aware of how they may need accommodations. At their internship sites, youth work with their job coaches to learn about workplace culture and to navigate the appropriate ways in which they should address concerns and issues that arise in the workplace. The job coaches help youth learn and practice how to advocate for their needs and where to go when they have questions, including which things are more appropriate to ask of a coworker, and when one should go to their supervisor. While the job coaches play an active role in the students’ internships, the job coach’s presence should not detract from the relationship between the supervisor and the student. As the internship progresses, job coaches step back and allow youth to manage their roles with more independence. While the coaches remain on site, they take a less prominent role in the students’ internship activities to ensure they exercise more independence in their work. The level of job coach involvement is solely reliant on the needs of the individual student at his or her internship, and it depends on the student’s success, comfort level, and conversations between the student, coach, and supervisor. While the program encourages movement towards independence, it does not necessitate it if the youth is not ready. However, regardless of each job coach’s level of involvement, the internship enables all participants to be better prepared to advocate for themselves in future employment settings.

The CDSP supports students in sharing their experiences and goals with family members. Although the program does not work directly with family members, staff encourage and assist students to think about how they wish to share this information with their family. Families, in turn, can provide additional support by helping students to determine their next steps or by advocating for opportunities and services that match their youth’s goals and interests.


Each spring, the Center conducts an application process and selects ten youth to participate in the Career Development Summer Program. The organization uses a variety of outreach methods to solicit applicants. Staff travels around the state of Delaware, disseminating information about the Center’s programs to individuals with disabilities. Representatives from CDSP also share information about CDSP with students and families at the school, county, and state transition fairs. After students submit an application, they participate in an informal interview which helps the CDSP staff to learn more about the student and assess their level of independence.

All youth are responsible for their transportation to and from the program, and therefore most youth in the program are from the surrounding county. Acceptance into the program is decided with enough time to arrange for travel training by CDSP staff if a young person needs additional training before the program begins.
The program and all classroom activities are on the University of Delaware’s campus. Two teachers at the Center supervise the program, teaching classroom lessons and taking students on workplace site visits. CDSP hires undergraduate students at the University to serve as job coaches.

CDSP is funded solely through a grant from the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for pre-employment transition services. The stipends students received for their internship hours are paid by the University using its VR funding. Employers do not currently contribute to intern pay.
The program measures students’ growth through skills assessments which the students, job coaches, and worksite supervisors complete at three different times throughout the internship: at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the program. The program uses assessments of general work readiness skills as well as position-specific skills. For example, a student who is performing clerical work in his internship may be assessed on abilities related to typing, computer skills, and categorizing products. General career readiness skills assessments measure the following skills:

  • Initiative and Motivation (e.g., identifies the next task independently, self-starts; displays enthusiasm)
  • Flexibility (e.g., adapts to changing expectations, different co-workers, willing to try something new)
  • Teamwork (e.g., works well in a group, respects others’ opinions, offers assistance to others)
  • Ability to Follow Directions (e.g., listens carefully, asks questions for clarification, completes task accurately)
  • Customer Service Skills (e.g., friendly, respectful, helpful to others)
  • Time Management and Punctuality (e.g., uses time efficiently – prioritizes and organizes, sets goals; arrives on time)
  • Problem Solving Skills (e.g., ability to recognize problems and possible solutions)
  • Communication Skills (e.g., speaks clearly and effectively – is understood by others, uses good eye contact, engages in reciprocal [2-way] conversations)
  • Asking for Help (e.g., recognizes when support is needed and requests it)
  • Accepting Help and Constructive Feedback (e.g., listens and responds respectfully; understands and accepts consequences for errors and mistakes)
  • Professionalism (e.g., displays appropriate public behaviors and wears appropriate worksite attire)
  • Social Skills (e.g., understands social cues/signs, follows social guidelines within the workplace)
  • Completion of Assigned Tasks (e.g., produces good quality and accurate work in a timely manner)


These assessments gauge the student’s level of success as well as their level of independence. In addition, they provide an opportunity for job coaches and students to discuss the students’ progress. Students’ portfolios are also used as a record of progress throughout the program.


CDSP has a 94 percent program completion rate. As of Summer 2017, a total of 25 students have completed the program. Survey responses from the most recent participants indicated that they were very satisfied with CDSP (average score of 4.65 out of 5). All participants reported enjoying the internship, worksite visits, and community exploration opportunities in particular, while some did not prefer the classroom-based activities. Students have shared that the program has assisted them to:

  • identify career pathways they are excited about;
  • understand exactly what is involved with different jobs;
  • identify what they don’t want to do in some cases; and
  • build confidence in pursuing employment, advocating for themselves, and communicating with their support teams about career goals.


Parents were also very satisfied with the program (average score of 4.75 out of 5) and reported observing increases in independence, job skill awareness, self-advocacy and social skills. According to the internship supervisors, all students showed positive growth in developing industry-specific skills, and improved throughout the summer in multiple areas of general work skills. Improvement and decreased need for support were observed among at least 75% of the participants in the following general workplace skill areas: initiative & motivation, flexibility, teamwork, following directions, time management, problem solving, and communication skills.

The opportunities to experience college life through learning in a college setting, networking with college students and campus staff (as co-workers and supervisors), and exploring college life has also prompted several participants to consider postsecondary education. Two participants went on to enroll in the University’s inclusive higher education program for students with intellectual disabilities since completing the CDSP. These students had not previously considered postsecondary education before attending the summer program. Both have graduated from the certificate program and have obtained employment in the community.

Organization Name: University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies
Program Name: Career Development Summer Program
Street Address: 461 Wyoming Road
City: Newark
State: DE

Contact Person: Brian Freedman, Ph.D.
Contact Title: Associate Director, Center for Disabilities Studies
Contact Email:
Contact Phone Number: 302-831-4688