An Employment Mentoring Project for College Students who are Blind

Principal Investigator: Jamie O'Mally, jamie.omally@colled.msstate.edu

Graduating from college and getting a first job can be difficult for any student, but particularly so for students who are blind. These students often lack the work experience and professional skills of their peers who are not blind. Although students who are blind have the highest college attendance rates among students with disabilities, their rates of post-college employment are low.

In order to address this gap, this project matched students who are blind and preparing to graduate from college with mentors in their chosen career field who are also blind. Mentors can provide students with valuable insights and guide them as they make the transition from college to career. If the mentor is blind, they can also help their mentees navigate issues like transportation, assistive technology, and telling prospective employees about their visual impairment.

In this project, mentors and students worked together over the course of a year, with mentors providing their mentees experience, advice, and coaching. This project seeks to discover whether working closely with a mentor improves postgraduate employment outcomes for students who are legally blind. The hope is that, with the help of their mentors, participating students will not only have higher rates of employment, but will also be more satisfied with their jobs and have a stronger sense of self-efficacy.

Researchers from the National Research and Training Center (NRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision worked with consumer groups and institutions of higher education across the country to recruit mentors and mentees to participate in the program. In order to qualify, students had to be legally blind residents of the United States, graduating between April 2012 and December 2014. Participating mentors also had to be legally blind, and they were asked to provide their mentees with opportunities for job-shadowing and networking, as well as monthly face-to-face meetings.

Participating students were randomly assigned to either the intervention or comparison group and placed (based on their expected graduation date) into one of four program cohorts. In total, across the four cohorts, 51 students (26 comparison, 25 intervention) participated in the program, with 25 mentors also participating. Students in the comparison group received incentives to participate and information about careers. Students in the intervention group were matched with mentors. Both sets of students completed brief pre-tests to measure their job-seeking self-efficacy, assertiveness in job-seeking, and career optimism.

Students participating in the mentoring program had a wide range of career interests: 21% wanted to pursue a career in the social sciences, 17% in STEM-related fields, 16% in law/government/public administration, 14% in communication/journalism/English, 12% each in both disability/blindness-related jobs and in the “other” category, and 8% in performing arts.

Mentor-mentee matches were made based on a number of factors, including location (ideally, the two should live less than an hour away) and career field. The goal was to match each student with a nearby mentor who was working in the student’s chosen career field. However, due to a limited mentor participant pool, some students were matched with “distance mentors,” who lived over an hour away.

Mentors who participated in the program had high levels of education, overall. 52% had a graduate degree, an additional 24% had a PhD, and 12% had a Bachelor’s degree. Just 12% of mentors either did not complete college or held a vocational certification.

In order to guide and structure the mentor/mentee relationship, the NRTC developed a mentoring manual for use by the mentor. The manual covered a wide range of topics, from technology and transportation to résumés and interviews. Mentors were encouraged to use the manual as a resource for conversations with their mentees.

After completing the program, students took post-tests to measure job-seeking self-efficacy, assertiveness in job-seeking, career optimism, and employment outcomes (e.g., employment status, salary, benefits, job satisfaction, etc.). Students from the intervention group were also asked about their overall satisfaction with the program.

The final cohort of mentors and mentees will complete the program in January 2015. After they are finished, the analysis portion of this project will begin. Using data from all four cohorts, NRTC researchers will examine student employment outcomes in order to determine whether the mentoring experience made a difference. Analysis will also examine whether students experienced growth in areas such as assertiveness, optimism about their careers, and job-seeking self-efficacy.

Upcoming Project Outputs

  • Mentoring manual for mentors
  • Mentoring manual for mentees
  • Short course on mentoring