DoD Mentorship Program May Expand Careers for Disabled College Students
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2002 DoD today kicked off its first computer-accessed mentoring program primarily targeted at young disabled college students thinking of joining DoD's work force.
Charles S. Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, hosted the Pentagon ceremony, where the first two e-mails were sent to college- student participants of the mentoring program. The mentoring initiative is an extension of the summer hire program DoD conducts through the governmentwide Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities it co- sponsors with the Labor Department.
Besides kicking off the new program, Abell reminded the audience that the ceremony also commemorates National Disability Mentoring Day (Oct. 16) and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. DoD's new program for persons with disabilities liberates and empowers, he asserted.
The ceremony also featured a video-teleconference "visit" from President I. King Jordan of Washington's Gallaudet University for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Abell noted 45 Gallaudet students took part in work force recruitment program this year; DoD hired 11 and six signed up for the new mentoring program.
Abell called the mentorship program "win-win" for DoD and for persons with disabilities seeking DoD employment.
"We want to increase the number of persons with disabilities in our work force, and they want the jobs that we have to offer," he explained. "We have invested in their career development and they want significant and successful careers."
The mentoring program is slated to run one year, Abell said, adding the relationships formed between mentors and their charges will shape themselves to be as simple or as complex as participants wish.
DoD, he noted, will provide participants background materials and an outline of suggested activities.
"Cyberspace is an equalizer. Geography is not a barrier and disabilities will disappear," Abell said. DoD's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, called the CAP, he added, provides any special equipment or software mentors may need to interact with the people they advise.
"We in the Department of Defense believe that the virtual world should be barrier-free," Abell said. He mentioned President Bush's tour of CAP's technology evaluation center June 19, 2001, as part of his first visit to the Pentagon after his inauguration.
Judy Gilliom, DoD disability program manager, noted the mentorship program enables students to learn about DoD "without having to hire a moving van and change residence." Computer access means mentors can participate more actively and students can more realistically make their plans, she said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to double DoD's current ranks of 6,000 employees who have the severe disabilities targeted for emphasis in DoD's affirmative action program, DoD spokesperson Army Lt. Col. Jim Cassella said.
Each year in its partnership with the Labor Department, Cassella noted, DoD signs up about 200 summer interns, mostly college students. About 50 students and recent graduates with disabilities have registered for the new mentoring program, he added.