Real opportunities. Real results. Armstrong helps special-needs students get valuable work experience.

For Micaela Bowers, the opportunity to work as an intern at The Galley in Armstrong's Student Union has been a life-changing experience.

Every day, this 19-year-old graduate of Johnson High School in Savannah prepares sandwiches and serves food through Project SEARCH, a local program which helps secure competitive employment for differently-abled young adults.

“Everyone is very helpful and friendly,” Micaela says of her experience at Armstrong. “I get to interact with students and faculty. I'm learning new stuff.”

In fact, Micaela made such a positive impression on her supervisors at The Galley, she has been offered a permanent, paid position.

“I'm thrilled,” she says. “I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity Armstrong has given me.”

Micaela is one of five Project SEARCH individuals currently interning on the Armstrong campus, in locations ranging from the IT Services office to the College of Education computer lab. Project SEARCH students gain valuable job experience through a one-year, school-to-work program designed to facilitate a seamless transition from high school to the workplace.

“The goal of the program is job placement,” explains JayJay Hendrix, a Project SEARCH instructor and transition specialist. “Our program is transformational. The interns enter the program as high school students and leave as working adults.”

Patricia Wachholz, dean of Armstrong's College of Education, has received positive feedback about the Project SEARCH interns, who first started working on campus in the fall of 2013.

“The most impressive thing about the interns is their dedication,” she raves. “They are always here, always on time. They take their work very seriously and are intent on learning the skills related to the workplace. They're just a delightful group of high school students -- very polite, very mature in their interactions with the adults on campus.”

Armstrong offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Special Education and has the distinction of being the only university in Georgia with a state-approved Transition Endorsement program for practicing special educators.

“It's one thing for us to teach the theory and methodology for working with special needs students and quite something else to put these ideas into practice,” says Dean Wachholz. “Not too long ago, special needs individuals weren't valued as contributors in the general workforce. Today, we recognize the contributions of ‘differently abled' individuals, like the students who are interning on the Armstrong campus, as not only valuable but essential to the well-being of our community.”

Since its inception in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site in Cincinnati, Ohio to more than 200 locations across the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. The program began in Chatham County in 2006 and currently has 19 interns working at area companies and non-profit organizations.

Hendrix credits Armstrong with helping expand the program and providing much-needed training space for the Project SEARCH program at University Hall.

“The welcome we've received from Armstrong has been phenomenal,” Hendrix says. “Armstrong is helping change the lives of these students by encouraging independence and enabling them to transition to the workplace.”