On Top of the World: Meet Austin!

 

More than anything, Austin Shirk wanted to be a Buckeye.

Austin putting a sterilization rack back on the belt in Central Sterile Supplyl

From his home in Allen, Texas, he’d cheer for the football team alongside his parents, Dina ’88 and Dave ’92, and he often went to games when visiting Ohio relatives. As he grew up, he dreamed of taking college classes at Ohio State, making new friends and finding a good job.

But his prospects for higher education seemed remote to Austin and his parents. Austin is among millions of people in this country with an intellectual or developmental disability, less than a quarter of whom go on to college after finishing high school, according to Think College, a national nonprofit working to raise that percentage.

As for finding a good job, “We were having a heck of a time getting anyone to give Austin a chance in Texas,” Dina said. Though her son enrolled in independent living and job training programs, they didn’t lead to jobs. Instead, he languished on waiting lists.

If local programs could not help Austin, the Shirks decided, then they would move on. They began searching for an alternative and could hardly believe it when their quest led to their alma mater.

Ohio State had created a program in 2011 called Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings, or TOPS, to provide personalized support to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The program is designed for students who want to learn life skills and find a job that matches their abilities and talents — all while experiencing the university’s vibrant academic and social life.

Austin had a chance to be a Buckeye.

He couldn’t fill out the TOPS application fast enough, and the Shirks waited nervously for the call. Then it came: He was in. “It was a big accomplishment, a big step to get into TOPS,” Austin said.

A world of firsts awaited Austin when he arrived in Columbus in 2014. While he was excited to be on campus, it was a big adjustment, and he would be living in his own apartment for the first time. Austin, who loved auditing classes with more “typical” Ohio State students, discovered a special interest he didn’t know of: “I enjoyed earth sciences, especially the lectures, labs and hands-on activities,” he said.

Based on that, his job coaches found him internships with the Nisonger Center Dental Program and a private dental clinic in Columbus, where he assembled instrumentation trays and sterilized equipment.

After completing the TOPS program in 2016, Austin went to work at the Wexner Medical Center where he supports the Central Sterile Supply department. His position pays a fair-market wage with full benefits, including retirement benefits and health insurance. “I love my job,” he said. “It’s worth going through the [challenges that accompany] being in TOPS.”

His manager, Jen Smith, is similarly delighted.

“Austin is so eager to learn new tasks, and he gets along with everyone,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen one human being get along so well with everyone.” It’s not just that Austin is nice; his contributions make the entire team more effective. “He can handle tasks that were taking our clinical staff away from production,” said Smith, who hopes to create another job with TOPS. “We would have two of Austin if we could.”

In helping students find their way as young adults, TOPS changes lives for entire families.

“I am so excited about Austin’s job,” Dina Shirk said. “When we got his diagnosis at age 10, the doctor said, ‘If I were you, I would teach him a few things and forget everything else.’ We never went back to him, and Austin has so exceeded those expectations.”

Source: MacLellan, Erin. “On Top of the World.” The Ohio State University Alumni Association, Ohio State Alumni Magazine, 2017, www.osu.edu/alumni/news/ohio-state-alumni-magazine/issues/march-april-2017/on-top-of-the-world.html.

 

Ohio State recognized with Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award

Ohio State has been recognized for our commitment to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace, and for being a leader of diversity and inclusion best practices in Ohio.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) has awarded Ohio State with a 2020 Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award, which honors employers who have hired at least five OOD job seekers in the one-year evaluation period and met specific criteria that demonstrates their level of diversity and inclusion practices.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive culture where every individual is valued and can contribute is the foundation for a productive, gratifying workplace,” Susan Basso, senior vice president for talent, culture and human resources, said. “We appreciate our partnership with OOD and are proud to be recognized for our commitment to providing a positive workplace culture for all employees.”

Ohio State has been honored for the fourth consecutive year for dedication to the OOD partnership and continuous hiring and support of OOD candidates. In addition, Ohio State’s partnership with OOD includes a full-time talent sourcing coordinator on the Human Resources talent team and facilitates the hiring of many OOD candidates across all campuses and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Ohio State was also recognized in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for creating a culture which encourages the support and advancement of employees with disabilities.

Read more on the OOD website.

Article Source: “Ohio State Recognized with Employer Partners of Inclusion Platinum Award.” Human Resources: Appreciation, Awards and Recognition, HR Connection, 2 Oct. 2020, hr.osu.edu/news/2020/10/02/ohio-state-recognized-with-employer-partner-of-inclusion-platinum-award/

Internship Feature: OSU Student Health Services Physical Therapy Department

When TOPS approached Pam Bork (Senior Physical Therapist for OSU Student Health Services) about creating an internship for students in the TOPS Program, she welcomed us with open arms and was eager to make it work. She met us with a smile on her face, gave us a tour of the facility and office spaces, and we collaborated to come up with various tasks students can work on to build their employment skills in her department.

Depending on a student’s interest, some of the things they can learn in the Physical Therapy department include:

  • Office Support – greeting incoming patients, answering the phone, making copies, checking the mail and writing appointment reminder cards
  • Healthcare and Physical Therapy – cleaning and resetting gym equipment and patient rooms, stocking and ordering therapy supplies, sit in on therapy appointments to learn about different types of therapy and assist
  • Research – do online research regarding things like health and wellness, different types of injuries, why people need physical therapy, and physical therapy exercises that help patients get better
Student (Connor) in black and white polo shirt sitting on a green exercise ball. Connor is sitting next to Pam, his internship supervisor, and learning about different types of therapy.

TOPS student, Connor Silverman, learning about therapy exercises from his internship supervisor, Pam Bork.

If there is something a student wants to learn more about, Pam is happy to help them towards that goal. She takes the time to get to know each student and understand how they learn best to help them be successful and as independent as possible – one of our students, Connor, loved that Pam talked with him about Ohio State football and that she had a checklist of tasks for him to utilize each shift. Thank you to Pam and her team for creating such an inclusive and supportive environment for TOPS students.