College 

New Internships Offer Opportunity for Students with Disabilities

Dustin Gilmer works in downtown Indianapolis with his service dog, Carver, at his side. Photo by Ashley Day.

As a student at Ball State University, Dustin Gilmer majored in journalism and telecommunications, with a goal of becoming a sports reporter.

But Gilmer struggled to find an internship, which was both a graduation requirement and something he knew he needed to continue to develop marketable job skills. Born with a rare brittle bone condition that has caused approximately 300 broken bones, Gilmer had already overcome so much through ability and personality, but the lack of professional work was holding him back.

A former mentor to Gilmer at Ball State, Larry Markle, recommended that he take an internship through a new program at Eskenazi Health, an Indiana hospital and healthcare provider.

Markle had recently become director of the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health (formerly the Initiative for Empowerment and Economic Independence). The organization empowers Indiana college students with physical disabilities to find careers through internships that build skills, confidence and work history.

At first, Gilmer was hesitant to even apply.

“At the time, I didn’t have any interest in a hospital setting. Then I decided, what the heck, I will do it to meet requirements of my degree program,” Gilmer said.

He was hired as intern in the Eskenazi Health public affairs office, a life-changing experience, as it turned out.

“The Gregory S. Fehribach Center accepts qualified, capable students with a variety of mobility, orthopedic, hearing and visual impairments who demonstrate the work ethic, skill and drive to pursue and obtain gainful employment following graduation.”

“Without that internship, I wouldn’t be in the position I am,” said Gilmer, who, four years later, is project manager at the Office of Disability Affairs for the City of Indianapolis. “It’s been a blessing for myself and others, as this job allows me to live my life through my work and through my disability.”

The Gregory S. Fehribach Center accepts qualified, capable students with a variety of mobility, orthopedic, hearing and visual impairments who demonstrate the work ethic, skill and drive to pursue and obtain gainful employment following graduation.

“They are representative of the untapped pool of qualified employees so often overlooked by employers,” Markle said.

So far, 77 Indiana college students from 22 colleges have completed 118 full-time, paid internships at organizations including Eli Lilly and Co., Lumina Foundation, divisions and departments of the State of Indiana, and Eskenazi Health, where it all started.

“The goal is to match the interns with programs and departments that align with your academic pursuits, interests and career goals,” he said.

Another goal of the program is to impact attitudes and culture in the workplace—to break through hesitancies and misconceptions that staff may have about supervising or working alongside persons with disabilities, and to foster an inclusive environment of acceptance, respect and understanding.

The Center is named for Indianapolis attorney Gregory S. Fehribach. For Fehribach, the goals of the program are deeply important. He is founder of The Fehribach Group, which provides innovative access solutions to clients, and is trustee of the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County, which operates Eskenazi Health.

Intern Natalie Davis of Saint Mary’s College at the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at Eskenazi Health. Photo courtesy of Gregory S. Fehribach Center.

Fehribach, who has a disability and uses an electric wheelchair as a mobility aid device, helped Eskenazi Health develop the internship program as he realized that he was still usually the only person with a disability in boardrooms and meetings where decisions were made.

Using a sports analogy, Fehribach wondered whether future leaders with disabilities were being recruited.

“I asked myself, ‘Where’s the bench? Where are the leaders that are coming along after me and others with disabilities?’ We need to build that bench, and we need to start with hiring interns who will gain the experience they need to fill those leadership roles,” Fehribach said.

Hiring people with disabilities is a civil rights issue that continues to be a challenge in higher education and across all industries and career fields, Fehribach said.

“It’s a real struggle to get people to realize that having a disability doesn’t mean a person isn’t fully qualified,” he said. “It’s not fair and it’s not right, but we hope this program empowers Indiana college students to achieve success.”

For more information about applying for an internship with the Gregory S. Fehribach Center, please contact Markle at larry.markle@eskenazihealth.edu.

Related posts