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Saturday, May 21, 2022

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A workforce innovation assistance center will be housed in SDSU's Interwork Institute. A workforce innovation assistance center will be housed in SDSU's Interwork Institute.

$16.5M Grant Furthers SDSU’s National Leadership in Vocational Rehabilitation

The grant recognizes SDSU’s efforts for improving employment opportunities for those with disabilities.
By Michael Klitzing

San Diego State University has been awarded a $16.5 million federal grant to keep the university at the forefront of improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) will provide the funding over five years to support a new center, housed in SDSU’s Interwork Institute, that will provide quality management to the 78 public vocational rehabilitation agencies nationwide that connect people with disabilities to career resources.

The new center will build off the success of the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC), an RSA-funded national initiative run by the Interwork Institute for the past five years.

“Obviously, they like what we do,” said Caren Sax, professor and chair of SDSU’s Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education. “When we had the last WINTAC meeting with several folks from RSA, our project officer told us that this was by far the best project he's ever been involved with.”

WINTAC provided technical assistance and training to agencies in 53 states and territories, helping them implement aspects of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, federal legislation passed in 2014 that reorganized and streamlined vocational rehabilitation. The center helped agencies implement pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities, phase out sub-minimum-wage employment, offer customized and supported employment, and transition to new performance measures.

“It all boiled down to trying to help the states understand the new law and implement the requirements to improve services to people with disabilities,” said Chaz Compton, WINTAC director. “Everything we do as a technical assistance center is really geared to helping the public vocational rehabilitation staff do their job to the best of their abilities — to serve people with disabilities as effectively as possible and ultimately influence their capacity to obtain employment and help them become self-sufficient and independent.”

The Next Iteration

Compton will continue to direct the new center, which will be named WINTAC-QM (for quality management). The work will be similar, too — the new center will provide state vocational rehabilitation programs with technical assistance to more effectively manage their programs and resources. They will also work to implement pilot projects, such an artificial intelligence program to gather information on clients, allowing counselors to work more efficiently.

SDSU will partner in the project with George Washington University, Cornell University, the National Disability Institute, the Council of State Administrators for Vocational Rehabilitation, the Career Index and others.

Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in research, teaching and in community engagement is at the forefront of the university’s new five-year strategic plan, "We Rise We Defy: Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives."

History of Leadership

SDSU has been a leader in the rehabilitation field for more than four decades, building off the success of professor emeritus Fred McFarlane, who first built a working relationship with the RSA soon after its founding in 1973. That long history of success is a big part of why SDSU’s Rehabilitation Counseling master’s program ranks fourth in the country according to U.S. News & World Report.

WINTAC-QM will employ both SDSU graduates and graduate research assistants, said Compton, an alumnus and current lecturer in the program.

“The Interwork Institute and the university are really a premier source of training, and technical assistance and education for the nation,” Compton added. “SDSU is making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. It's a never-ending battle, but we're having an impact.”