Update: An Employment Mentoring Project for Students and Professionals with Vision Loss

NRTC logo

As our readers know, I admire and support the ongoing – and critically 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 of project results. Previously, I’ve blogged about a number of significant 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 is 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 (or totally 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.

About 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.

In other words, we 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

Recently, I had an email conversation with Dr. Jamie O’Mally, an Assistant Research Professor at the NRTC and the Principal Investigator for the project. Dr. O’Mally provided an update about the project, which I am sharing with her permission:

There are four cohorts, or groups of research subjects, who comprise the project. Cohort 1 has completed the project, Cohorts 2 and 3 are underway, and Cohort 4, the final cohort, is in need of at least 20 more students who will be graduating between April and December 2014. That group will begin in January 2014. We’ll continue recruiting through December 2013.

Head shot of Dr. Jamie O'Mally

We have had a great deal of success, in that participants generally report that the project is helpful and valuable.

We changed our recruitment materials to say “college students who are legally blind (or totally blind)” instead of just “legally blind,” because we thought that potentially eligible participants might have been confused by that terminology.

We’ll begin data analyses on the project in the next few months, and that part’s exciting for me – to see the results and the impact that mentoring relationships may have and learn more about how the relationships went.

Also, we’re planning to have a State of the Science Conference in 2014. We’re looking forward to this opportunity to share the work we’ve done on this project and other projects under this grant.

I’m particularly excited because we’re considering having a mentoring pair join a panel for discussion at the conference to talk about their experiences in the project and their thoughts on the needs of college students and the role that mentoring plays for blind college graduates on the job market.

More Research Insights from Dr. O’Mally

In addition to providing project updates, Dr. O’Mally has a number of insights about the value of evidence-based research:

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 visually impaired or 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.

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 nrtc2@colled.msstate.edu or by phone at 662-325-2001.

Also, CareerConnect® from American Foundation for the Blind provides employment information and career exploration tools for students and adults with vision loss and the professionals who work with them.