• A stator in the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee.
  • The penstocks above the water at Hoover Dam
  • The top of Shasta Dam in California
  • An automated gate structure on a canal in Washington.
  • An aerial photo of the sunsetting at Ruedi Reservoir in Colorado.


“I learned a lot from Project SEARCH, and it has prepared me for my future,” Gwynne Brawner, Project SEARCH student, said as she gazed into the computer screen with a huge smile on her face. Project SEARCH is a combined education and work experience program for students with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities who are in their last year of high school.

This Ohio-based organization focuses on giving students the opportunity to have hands-on experience in a work environment with the goal of obtaining full or part-time employment after graduation.

The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of training and career exploration, with long-term job coaching and continuous feedback from teachers, job coaches and employers. Students spend their entire school day at the workplace. The majority of the day is spent in a work experience setting for which they applied, were interviewed and selected.

“A key element to a successful internship is an understanding by the host supervisors of the role the job coaches play in supporting both the supervisors and the interns, as well as what modifications might need to be made for interns with intellectual disabilities,” Genevieve Chaffee, special education for Project SEARCH at the Department of the Interior, said. “Modifications, developed by the job coaches based on the needs of the task and the intern, may be as simple as a checklist or written versus verbal instructions,” she said.

Reclamation will serve as the host agency — providing a classroom, internships and internal co-ordination while the other partners provide a teacher, job coaches and support services for students through May 31.

Gwynne began interning in January with Reclamation’s Native American and International Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. “When she first started she didn’t have any experience, but she has come a long way. She is now scanning files, renaming them and e-mailing them to me, shredding documents and copying many items for our office,” Mary Mascarenhas, International Affairs specialist, explained.

Mascarenhas worked with Richard Ives, director of Native American and International Affairs, to find a part-time position for Gywnne. She was hired as a permanent provisional part-time employee July 7. Her duties are expanded, and she is working with additional offices in Reclamation. Across Reclamation, a number of students are getting work experience through Project SEARCH. Interns are working in the Reclamation Mailroom, Library and Client Support and Tech Presentations offices at the Denver Federal Center.

“I encourage any office to get involved. You could change a person’s life and find that it enriches you as well,” Mascarenhas added.

Released: April 02, 2013