AUSTIN ? The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) announced the kickoff of the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) and Explore STEM! 2021 programs. These summer initiatives provide career guidance, hands-on learning and work opportunities to students with disabilities aged 14-22. An estimated 6,800 students have participated in these summer work experiences and summer camps since launching in 2017.
“Texas wins when students with disabilities are given on-the-job training, a solid foundation of transferable skills and the guidance to find rewarding careers,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “TWC is proud to support programs like Summer Earn and Learn and Explore STEM! which combine so many of the initiatives we champion.”
Students participating in Summer Earn and Learn attend work readiness training to prepare them for successful employment. During their work-based learning, students earn a paycheck while acquiring new skills and professional experiences, as well as on-the-job training.
Dane Cunningham twice participated in Summer Earn and Learn, which helped him build skills in a variety of work environments and led to full-time employment at Schlotzsky’s restaurant.
“At Schlotzsky’s, I swept the floors, bussed tables. I helped take out the trash. I bagged pickles. And I still work there, and I’ve been working there about a year and a half,” said Cunningham. “The SEAL program really helped me a lot. It helped me get my foot in the door in the working world.”
Click here to see a video of Dane. https://youtu.be/j_JMlXu_9Wk
Employers who have participated in Summer Earn and Learn express positive experiences and appreciate the fresh perspective from working with students with disabilities and for whom the SEAL work experience is their first ever work experience.
The SEAL program has grown to more than 940 worksites, which have included a variety of both private and public sector employers, such as Chili’s restaurant in Cedar Park, Alphabet Alley Learning Center in Llano, the Taylor Housing Authority, Texas Tech University in Lubbock, the Houston Zoo and the Rockwall Aquatic Center. Throughout the program, students learn about the employers’ industries and develop specialized knowledge and talents. Upon completion of the work experience, some students have had the opportunity to become employed full time.
“Summer Earn and Learn offers an eager workforce the opportunity to experience the day-to-day responsibilities associated with careers they might chose for their future,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “This program helps students return to school with meaningful skill sets and, very importantly, allows them to earn while they learn.”
Elaine McDaniel, Assistant Director of Alphabet Alley Learning Center, Llano welcomed a Summer Earn and Learn student in 2019 who she later hired.
“The Summer Earn and Learn Program was a huge benefit for us. We were able to meet Candie and get to know her. She fit in with our girls and was a welcome sight each day. Candie has a great personality and is eager to work and learn. We would not have gotten to know Candie if it hadn’t been for the program,” McDaniel said. “The 20 hours a week she worked enabled us to get a clear picture of her work ethic before we offered her a job. Candie continues to be a part of our staff while finishing her senior year of high school. We look forward to having her full time in the summer and will see what the fall brings for her. Thank you Summer Earn and Learn for this great opportunity!”
The SEAL program is a partnership between TWC, Local Workforce Development Boards and Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS). The partners collaboration to promote the program locally and staff match students’ interests with interested businesses who have open positions. Students connect with local employers where they will have the opportunity to do hands-on work for five weeks or more. The students will learn about the employer’s industry and develop skills and work experience that will prepare them for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment.
Explore STEM! is a partnership between TWC and institutions of higher learning. Students participating in the program are encouraged to explore careers involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Steady growth of STEM jobs is expected to continue in Texas. The higher rates of pay in STEM occupations can offer long-term employment and prosperity to our future workforce.
“STEM skills are always in high-demand with our Texas employers, which is why Explore STEM! is such a vital piece of the workforce development puzzle,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Aaron Demerson. “Explore STEM! provides our students with disabilities another opportunity to engage, learn and explore careers in STEM related fields with employers that want and need these skill sets.”
Students with disabilities who participate in Explore STEM! day camps are inspired to develop an interest in STEM careers through lectures, hands-on activities, and presentations by visiting STEM professionals that is adapted to a virtual environment.
A third-year participant, South Texas College (STC) hosted students in south Texas this past summer who received hands-on robotics coaching in two virtually led summer camps. Students used STEM concepts to design, build, program, and test robots to complete a variety of tasks. Skilled instructors worked with students virtually to engage in the design cycle using digital tools to compare problem-solving solutions.
“It is commendable that organizations like TWC and the Vocational Rehabilitation program are willing and able to participate in advanced technical programs at STC despite the challenges presented in the current environment—all for the benefit of the clients they serve,” said Dr. Carlos Margo, Associate Dean of Industry Training and Economic Development. “Utilizing the latest in technological resources, we at STC continue to design, develop, and deliver advanced technical training programs in response to the growing demand for STEM-centered jobs.”
The nine institutions of higher education participating in Explore STEM! 2021 are Sul Ross University, Central Texas College, Houston Community College, South Texas College, Texas A&M University, University of Houston Clear Lake, University of North Texas, University of Texas at El Paso, and University of Texas at San Antonio. STEM topics vary by camp. Activities that will be made available to attendees include aeronautical engineering, computer coding and video games, fundamentals of drone piloting, 3D printing, and many other exciting STEM careers paths.
COVID-19 Safety Precautions:
SEAL and Explore STEM! participants receive counseling and guidance regarding COVID-19 safety precautions. Additionally, SEAL and Explore STEM! partners have been encouraged to ensure all SEAL participants wear PPE in accordance with CDC and OSHA guidance, as well as any state or local requirements.
Students interested in participating in SEAL or attending an Explore STEM! camp should contact their local Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services office: