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Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH group photo

Project SEARCH at Drexel University offers vocational training and internships to young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and an intellectual disability with the goal of competitive integrated employment. Young adults in their last year of high school are eligible to participate in a vocational training program that takes place entirely at Drexel University. Drexel is the first university setting in the country to offer a licensed version of the new autism-specific variation of Project SEARCH. The program is a partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)Community Integrated ServicesPennsylvania Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility ServicePhiladelphia School District, and the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Life Course Outcomes Program – Transition Pathways.

The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation produced this short video about Project SEARCH at Drexel University.

Mission Statement

To provide experiential learning to student participants with autism and/or intellectual disabilities with a goal of sustainable, competitive employment in the community.

Project SEARCH at Drexel University

During their last year of high school, program participants attend a school-to-work program taking place entirely at Drexel University. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job skills training through strategically designed internships. Interns discover and develop skills and abilities based on their employment interests. 

During classroom instruction led by an experienced Special Education teacher and supported by two job coaches, interns are engaged in a rigorous curriculum designed to develop hard and soft skills that are applicable to all workplace settings. Interns develop interviewing skills, learn to navigate their workplace, communicate effectively with coworkers and supervisors, write resumes, and manage their funds for a well-rounded and comprehensive vocational education.

In addition to classroom instruction, interns rotate through three unpaid internships at Drexel University throughout the academic school year, each lasting ten weeks. Working in conjunction with job coaches, a site mentor and a job developer, students acquire competitive, marketable, and transferable skills with the ultimate goal of obtaining competitive integrated employment once the program ends. The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Clinical Core provides a staff of seasoned professionals to aid in skill acquisition, and a local employment support agency, Community Integrated Services, assists with individualized job placement and developing a career portfolio as the school year nears an end. 

Eligibility Criteria

In order to be eligible for Project SEARCH at Drexel University, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements for the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Department of Behavioral Health and DisAbility Services. Applicants must attend a school in the Philadelphia School District, be diagnosed with ASD and an intellectual disability, and are typically on an Individualized Education Program. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a student’s desire to achieve competitive employment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Project SEARCH provide transportation?

No. Interns are responsible for transportation to and from their internships and class sites. However, upon acceptance to the program, a counselor will discuss the possibility of travel training with you if required.

What types of internships are available?

Drexel departments that have hosted internship sites include Barnes and Noble, Dragoncard, Event and Conference Services, Parking Services, Operations Student Center, and many more.

Are the internships paid?

No, internships are not paid positions.

What is a job coach?

A job coach is a trained employment specialist who uses structured intervention techniques to aid in task completion. The job coach’s goal is to teach the intern to complete their tasks independently to the employer’s specifications and to learn the interpersonal skills required to navigate the workplace.

Is job placement guaranteed at the end of Project SEARCH?

While the ultimate goal of Project SEARCH is to assist applicants in obtaining community employment, job placement is not guaranteed. However, interns will work in collaboration with a counselor from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and a job developer from Community Integrated Services to discover career paths and job opportunities.

What does a typical day at Project SEARCH look like?

Interns arrive to Drexel University independently and enter the building using their Drexel badge. After an hour of classroom instruction, interns proceed to their sites. They eat lunch (purchased or brought from home) at the internship site with their coworkers. After lunch, interns return to their classroom to complete paperwork and discuss their shift with their job coaches and instructor before leaving for the day.

Depending on the internship rotation and other appointments, an intern’s schedule may vary on occasion. Job coaches will gradually fade their presence as the intern acquires the skills necessary to complete their tasks independently. Interns will be immersed in the work setting by eating lunch and taking breaks with coworkers.


Project SEARCH was developed and introduced at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1996. Since its inception, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site at Cincinnati Children's to over 300 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. Project SEARCH's primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities. Please visit for more information.

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