The Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has awarded a two-year, $300,000 service contract to a Washington State University research team from the College of Education.

The research is an effort to help students, who receive special education services from schools, transition to both the workforce and adult life in general.

The project is led by Assistant Professor of Special Education Marcus Poppen, with faculty collaborators Holly Wittenburg, Lauren Bruno and Don McMahon. The team was awarded the contract following Poppen’s statewide evaluation of school-based pre-employment transition services.

His work showed the state’s transition services for special education students entering the workforce are overall successful but there are gaps in work-based learning experiences. Additionally, there is room to improve the extent to which all students with disabilities access services like career exploration, workplace readiness training and information about post-secondary enrollment options.

School-based pre-employment transition services range from career exploration to work-based learning. Poppen’s team is trying to better understand and improve these services so they’re made more widely available and accessible to students.

“Individuals with disabilities often experience poorer employment outcomes than individuals without disabilities, and we can do a lot to change that,” Poppen said. “Our work will increase their access to school-based transition services and ultimately improve their employment and independent outcomes.”

Poppen said the first step of the research will be working with WSU’s Social & Economic Sciences Research Center to update the specific tools used to evaluate the effectiveness of transition services for special education students entering the workforce or pursuing higher education in Washington.

Following this initial phase, the team plans to work with school and vocational rehabilitation partners to come up with new ways to increase the effectiveness and reach of transition programs for special education students.

Poppen has spent the last 11 years focused on improving career development and transition services for a reason and is convinced this project will be successful.

“I focus on employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities because of the important role that our occupations play in the development and maintenance of our own identities, as well as social and economic mobility,” he said. “I do what I do because I understand the importance of work in each work in each one of our lives and want to create those same opportunities for students with disabilities.”

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