Every morning when she gets to work, Campus Life Administrative Assistant Jean Voss looks forward to being greeted by a smiling, bubbly young man named Michael Sheridan. After making the rounds saying good morning to everyone in the office, Sheridan gets to work checking off tasks on his to-do list of daily responsibilities.
Sheridan is part of Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism (PSCA), a one-year program to help students with autism transition from their last year of high school to the working world. Students from area high schools elect to join the program and work with teachers to learn job skills for a few hours each morning. The rest of their days are spent getting hands-on experience in internships in any of 16 different departments throughout Northwestern.
Sheridan is one of the seven PSCA students interning at Northwestern this year and the first one ever to intern with the Campus Life department. “Michael is our first intern, but he won’t be our last,” Voss, his supervisor, said. “Campus Life is the most amazing place to have an intern. It’s all about inclusion and has such a sense of community.”
The program is structured so that each student holds three 10-week internships over the course of the school year— one each quarter. Sheridan said he has learned a lot during his time in the program. Most importantly, “I’ve learned how to get a job done and how to ask questions when I need help,” Sheridan said.
The lead PSCA teacher Christine McQuinn agrees that his growth has been visible through his time in the program. “He started out with a shorter to-do list for each day,” she said. “But he has a growing list of responsibilities now after showing Jean how capable he is and how much he can accomplish.”
Aside from being a valuable member of the team workwise, Executive Director of Campus Life Brent Turner said Sheridan has a “magnetic” personality.
“In our department, we have a lot of meetings so our doors tend to be closed,” Turner said. “But I think we’re at our best selves when we interact with each other. He brings us out of our offices and brings us together to come engage with the students.”
Sheridan said all the social interaction has been his favorite part of working in Campus Life, not just with his co-workers but also with Northwestern students. “It’s a space for student groups to meet and people to come study too,” he said.
Turner said, “We’re really excited about engaging with the community… As a place of higher education, we have an opportunity and an obligation to serve our community and invite the community into our spaces as well.” To work toward the goal of engaging with the larger community, PSCA has partnered with other organizations on campus. Kellogg Cares works with interns to improve interviewing skills and review resumes, and Hillel’s ZOOZ has a lunch buddy partnership with the interns.
PSCA is in its fourth year at Northwestern, and it has already made a big impact. The chapter has an 89% placement rate for program graduates in a variety of jobs.
Through Campus Life’s work with Sheridan, “we’ve gotten better too,” Turner said. “That’s what’s neat about thinking differently about work tasks and everyone’s strengths. That’s been healthy for us to reflect on as a team.” He says he looks forward to seeing the program grow and welcoming many more PSCA interns in the future.