Maryland State Delegate Visits NIH to Learn About Project Search
Maryland State Delegate Sarah Siddiqui Wolek, who represents Montgomery County District 16, and her chief of staff, Claudia Fess, visited NIH on Oct. 4 to learn about Project SEARCH—a national program that promotes diversity, inclusion and access to the workplace for young adults with disabilities.
The visit—part of Take Your Legislator to Work Day, an inaugural event organized by the nonprofit group Seeking Employment, Equality and Community for People with Developmental Disabilities (SEEC)—also highlighted NIH as an employer for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
NIH has been participating in the program since 2010. Each year, SEARCH NIH welcomes 8-10 individuals who participate in three internships across a 10-month period. Upon completion of the program, the interns graduate and may be offered a permanent job.
As of June 2023, a total of 109 interns have completed the program at NIH. Currently, there are 46 graduates working at NIH across 15 institutes and centers or with NIH contract agencies. On Sept. 5, nine SEARCH NIH interns began the 2023-2024 program.
During her recent tour, Wolek met with four SEARCH graduates—all working at the Clinical Center: Van Berg works in the Office of Hospitality and Volunteer Services, David Han and Gabriel Leder both work in Health Information Management, and Ricky Day works in the Office of Administrative Management.
“I love my job,” said Day. “I love being able to do my job as an individual. I put in the hard work and it pays off.” Income from Day’s NIH job allows him to rent an apartment that he shares with a roommate and he was able to save for a highly maneuverable electric wheelchair.
“My favorite part of this job is definitely the people,” said Leder.
NINDS is the executive sponsor for SEARCH NIH. NINDS Executive Officer Maryann Sofranko leads the program and recently received the 2023 Senior Executives Association Annual Award in the “Spirit of Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility” for her work.
NINDS currently employs three graduates. Another graduate, with NIDDK, is doing a detail at NINDS one day a week with the workforce engagement and development section.
Project SEARCH NIH has been a model and catalyst for other programs in the area, including in Montgomery County and at the Smithsonian. NIH is often called upon to meet with other federal agencies to discuss its operational model and implementation. Most recently NIH consulted with the Veterans Administration Hospital in D.C. as VA looks to start a program in 2024.
Project SEARCH was developed and is based at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Since its beginning, the program has grown from a single site to more than 600 sites throughout the U.S. and other countries.