Are You a Legally Blind College/Graduate Student? We Need You!

Mississippi State NRTC logo

As our readers know, I greatly admire the ongoing – and important – work of the Mississippi State University (MSU) National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC). The mission of the NRTC is to enhance employment and independent living outcomes for individuals who are blind or visually impaired through research, training, education, and dissemination. During the past year, I’ve blogged about a number of significant and innovative NRTC projects, including the Online Participant Registry for Blindness and Low Vision Research and the Vision Specialist in Vocational Rehabilitation Certificate program offered at MSU.

The NRTC Employment Mentoring Project

The most recent NRTC project, however, is one that is near and dear to my heart: A New Employment Research Project for College/Graduate Students and Mentors Who are Blind or Visually Impaired. The goal of this ongoing five-year research effort is to evaluate whether pairing students who are legally blind with successful mentors in their career fields who are also blind can increase competitive opportunities and outcomes in the job market. Here’s more information from the NRTC Employment Mentoring Project website:

It’s tough to find a job in today’s economy, even with a college degree. We are conducting a nationwide research project to see if pairing students who are legally blind with successful mentors in their career fields who are also blind will help. We are recruiting students who are graduating from colleges and graduate programs across the United States, who plan to seek employment after graduation. A combination of face-to-face, telephone, email, and other electronic means of contact will be used as part of the mentoring process.

But There’s More: Evidence-Based Practices

A major component of the NRTC employment mentoring project is gathering information that will contribute to the field – now and in the future – by providing data to support evidence-based practices.

Evidence-based research provides evidence that supports or rejects the use of specific interventions and, most importantly, provides systematic evidence of the usefulness of specific practices. In other words, this type of research doesn’t pull ideas “out of thin air”; instead, it documents what works and what doesn’t work, while paying close attention to the needs, values, and preferences of the individuals who will be affected by, or benefit from, the research outcomes.

Ah, but here’s the kicker: To support evidence-based research, including research related to employment of blind and visually impaired persons, we need evidence! I know that sounds obvious, but we truly do need you – our blind and visually impaired readers and supporters – to supply the input that can give real-life relevance to these research questions.

Dr. Jamie O’Mally Talks about the Employment Mentoring Project

Head shot of Dr. Jamie O'Mally

Recently, I had a wonderfully informative email conversation with Dr. Jamie O’Mally, an Assistant Research Professor at the NRTC who is actively involved in recruiting students for the project. Dr. O’Mally has a number of insights worth repeating, which I am sharing with her permission:

When we conduct research, we learn more about things that work – and don’t work well – for improving life for students with visual impairment. In order to conduct research, we need people to participate. Not just any people, but the kinds of people who would be most likely to benefit from the research findings.

We can’t just throw ideas (programs) together, run with them, and hope for the best. We’ve got to evaluate them to truly know what’s working well, and research like this can help support funding for research-based programs that have been shown to be effective.

This is a randomly controlled trial study, so half of the students will not get a mentor; still, I want to emphasize how important it is to help with research so that we can actually evaluate WHAT it is about mentoring that helps students with blindness become employed after graduation.

It’s so important to participate in research projects like this one – not only for individual benefits, but also for the benefits of the community and to contribute to further research on this topic. We have many mentors who are eager to work with students, guiding them and addressing the issues they faced when they were first looking for jobs.

This opportunity is different from other mentoring projects because it involves matching pairs (student/mentor) who are both legally blind, living close to one another, and sharing professional interests. Connecting with a mentor and building rapport through face-to-face interactions over the course of a year allows students to have the opportunity to strengthen their professional networks, while getting to know someone who has been successful in finding employment in the student’s field.

We want to recruit as many students as possible through December 2013. We have ongoing recruitment, and the next group begins in August. If we can get people to sign up as soon as possible, we can get them involved in the project right away. I’m also happy to discuss more details of the project by phone.

For More Information

For more information about the project, including the recruitment process, timelines, and eligibility criteria, visit the NRTC Employment Mentoring Project website or contact Dr. Jamie O’Mally at or by phone at 662-325-2001.

The field – and your colleagues – very much need your help and participation. Please consider volunteering for this worthy research project. Remember: You’re not only helping your own employment prospects – you’re also paving the way for future generations of fully employed blind and visually impaired persons!