Mississippi employment extravaganza. . . An inclusive corporate learning experience

Tue 01/31/2023 – 10:35 am | By: Van Arnold

Teens and young adults with disabilities enjoyed a hands-on learning experience at the first Mississippi Job Extravaganza held last November on the Gulf Coast.

Students aged 14-21 participated in a fun and educational event with the primary goal of providing an inclusive business learning experience. The Extravaganza, co-hosted by the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, consisted of local businesses providing hands-on experiences for high school students with disabilities.

The ultimate goal of Job Extravaganza is to provide an environment in which students can freely explore a variety of careers at their own pace and hopefully discover career options that best match their preferences, strengths and interests. .

A secondary special education teacher said, “It gave our students the opportunity to take the time to learn and talk to business owners in a relaxed setting. Companies took time with them and it boosted their confidence to explore future careers. In the past, when we took them to job fairs, they were normally intimidated to talk to employers, but not today. It was like a personal job fair just for them.

Dr. Jerry R. Alliston, associate director of the Institute for Disability Studies, highlighted the support students received throughout the event. . . “Students received peer mentors who helped them participate in at least 10 business experiences. Students then attended a networking lunch with their mentors and ended the day with interactive trainings on dressing for success and job interviews from our staff.

The students were all smiles and seemed to gain confidence as they visited each workstation where they had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and learn new ones. The hands-on corporate experiences provided students with exposure to new skills, potential employment, and eventually career options.

For example, Rosalie Station Car Wash & Detail Center gave students the opportunity to wash and wax a truck by hand. Screen printing, embroidery and awards from Alliston provided all the materials needed for the students to make a real trophy and award medallion. Wild Acres provided hands-on time with reptiles and a lesson in creating specialty meals.

Other companies participating in Job Extravaganza included Triton Systems, Salvation Army Family Store, Sunshine Nutrition, Institute for Disability Studies, The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Library, Fantasy Games, the Coffee Box, Southern Bagel Company and 34th Street Wholistic Gardens.

The Job Extravaganza event was co-directed by Beth Robertson, IDS Transition Coordinator, and Michett Ramos, Family Wellness Support Specialist, who oversaw all event activities.

Regarding the event, Beth Robertson explained, “Due to the variety of working industries represented and the carefully selected hands-on assignments prepared by each company, students were able to engage in personal and meaningful ways, leaving a lasting impact on their lives. Students are still talking about the event and teachers are leading class discussions about all the students learned and the careers they dream of pursuing. We hope to offer more of these events in the future and as a result , to see many more students with disabilities have the opportunity to explore potential career paths.”

Job Extravaganza is provided by the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi University Center of Excellence for Developmental Disabilities, and is funded by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.

For more than 40 years, IDS has maintained its mission to positively impact the lives of Mississippi citizens with developmental and other disabilities and their families throughout life and to work to increase their independence, productivity and their inclusion in the community. IDS focuses its work in three priority areas: community life, education and capacity building, and family engagement.

To learn more about IDS or Job Extravaganza, visit, call 601.266.5163, or email idsFREEMississippi.

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