Being Present in the Process

Hello, all!

I have had an incredible experience thus far at Cornerstone Building Brands as a Kenan Fellow! The product that I am working on during this time is a set of guidelines and procedures for creating and implementing inclusive hiring practices for individuals with disabilities (primarily intellectual/developmental) in advanced manufacturing. By the end of my fellowship journey, it is my hope that I have created a proposal that Cornerstone can use to implement a program that will address needs both within their own company as well as the community in which they serve. Additionally, I will take the knowledge that I have gained during this fellowship back into my classroom to better prepare my students for employment in the future.

Over the last 3-4 weeks, I have spent a considerable amount of my time researching employment history and statistics, laws and regulations, the process of vocational rehabilitation, barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities, success stories of companies that have inclusive hiring programs, and so much more. It is truly drinking from a fire hose. There is so much information that I need to gather, that it can sometimes feel overwhelming… but in a good way! I am amazed by how many advocacy groups, individual people, business organizations & lawmakers are committed to improving employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

In addition to research, I have gone on site visits to three different manufacturing plants so far, with one more visit to go on next week. These manufacturing sites are potential locations for a pilot program for the ‘Disability Employment Initiative’ that I am outlining in my proposal product. In next week’s blog, I will share more information about the site visits and outline in detail what the proposal includes!

-Challenges: To quote the phrase commonly used during our Summer Institute in June, I am “drinking from a fire house.” In order to create an initial proposal for a program like this, I have had to research an incredible amount of information in a short period of time. With each bit of information that I gather, it leads me to even more information to study and analyze! I oftentimes feel like I am running out of time. In these moments, I remind myself that I am doing the best that I can and that the product that I come up with during this summer will be meaningful. The biggest challenge for me is to remain present, and to not let the stress of creating the perfect ‘product’ take away from enjoying this process.

-Successes: Wow, I feel like this is hard to quantify, because the whole process so far has exceeded what I originally thought I would experience. I have found success in researching and learning about a system, vocational rehabilitation, that directly impacts the students in my classroom. I have spent hours on the phone with vocational rehabilitation representatives in South Carolina, North Carolina & Virginia- they have been wildly helpful in relaying information that is tough to research using the internet alone. Another success is that the site visits to various manufacturing plants have led us (myself & my mentors) to gain more information that we wouldn’t have been able to collect without visiting the sites in person. The plant operators and staff members were receptive to our efforts and we have left every site feeling encouraged and motivated to continue creating the proposal for the program.

More to come next week!

Enjoying the process,


Tired, but Incredibly Inspired

This is my first blog post, ever- so please bear with me! My name is Caroline Olson and I am a 2019-2020 Kenan Fellow. I just completed my 4th year of teaching high school special education in Raleigh, North Carolina. Applying to this program, I was aware that it was geared towards STEM teachers. After I received my acceptance letter, I was super excited but also admittedly nervous, as I anticipated that I would be a ‘fish out of water’ in comparison to the STEM experts that would likely make up this cohort. As I’m nearing the end of our Summer Institute at NCCAT, I am blown away by how diverse this group is and the unique contributions that each of us bring to the table. Each one of us has our own area of expertise, purposefully crafted together to complete a puzzle that makes us stronger together as a Fellows unit. Whether we are specialists in pedagogy, physics, math, biology, literacy, technology, or teaching English as a second language, we are all working towards a common goal of improving the lives of the students in our classrooms. Therefore, the highlight of my week was making connections with fellow educators through cross curricular collaborations. Making connections not only took place in our classroom PD sessions, but also on walks, scavenger hunts, kayak rides, and evening patio PD. My ‘gratitude tank’ is full.

One thing that I plan to implement in my classroom is a scavenger hunt using apps such as GooseChase and iNaturalist. GooseChase would work really well for my students because I am able to differentiate the means by which students submit evidence (photos, text, GPS, videos). This is not only engaging, but meets the learners where they are in terms of reading and writing levels. Including iNaturalist would allow for hands-on instruction in our school environment as well as our local community as we document our “finds” as Citizen Scientists.

This week of PD was very different from other PDs that I have attended in the past. The main reason for this is that all of the presenters (mainly from Steering Committee) have been in our shoes at some point in their career (all Kenan Fellows). Because of this, the enthusiasm and investment on their end was obvious and sustained throughout the entire week. One of my favorite “mantras” reads- ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’ I truly felt like everyone at NCCAT was present every day. This is not the case with other PDs that I have attended. We engaged, laughed, bonded, and learned from one another. I am excited to see where this journey will take all of us!