May 17, 2022
Amplify Inclusion Podcast
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.
Emily Villanueva, a former MOPD intern, discusses a recently launched mentorship program and her research on the topic. Tony Ceccato and Anthony Iacovetti, a mentorship pair from the program, also join to share about their experience. Listen now or view the full transcript below.
This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo. This season is made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation and members of the Aspire community.
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from the nonprofit, Aspire. Thanks for joining us for stories and conversation about disability inclusion. In an effort to break down barriers to employment, Aspire recently teamed up with the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, or MOPD, and Microsoft to launch a unique mentorship program centered on careers in technology. Today, we’ll hear from a recent intern of MOPD, as well as two individuals currently participating in the pilot program. Our first guest is Emily Villanueva, a doctoral student in Occupational Therapy at Rush University Medical Center. Emily joined me to discuss findings from her recent research project on mentorship, which she completed while interning at MOPD. So Emily, let’s start off just by talking a little bit about the work that you’re currently doing your role as an intern at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities here in Chicago.
So the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities is a, what we call a non-traditional occupational therapy rotation site. And so, that means it’s not clinical, it’s not hands-on, but it’s more to learn about city government and what occupational therapy can do in city government. Um, so my interests are generally about accessibility and inclusion for people with all disabilities, especially in the city of Chicago, because I live here and I go to school here. So that left a very broad scope for me to work under. MOPD is opening a career center this year under Deputy Commissioner Christina McGleam. And the Career Center will connect people with disabilities to employment pathways. And so I was working a lot under Deputy Commissioner Christina McGleam to build out this Employment Center, as well as build out the mentorship program.
So some folks might not know what occupational therapy is. Could you give a brief definition of what occupational therapy is?
Of course- occupational therapy is unfortunately not a very well known field or not very well explained. And so I would say generally, we help people get back to day-to-day tasks. And whether that’s after an injury, someone who acquired a disability, was born with a disability, we work with a ton of people. And we don’t specifically just do employment services, but what we focus on is occupation. So those are your activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, which would be things like cooking, pet care, things like that. And so employment really falls into this scope, because when people don’t have employment, and they can’t contribute in ways they want to that is what we would consider occupational injustice. If someone wants to be working, we want to find a way for them to be connected to employment or find different pathways.
So let’s talk a little bit more about that research. Can you explain what the focus of your research has been?
So in my program, we do a lot of research, and we do a lot of different research projects. I am very interested in accessibility, inclusion, architectural accessibility, all of that. So that kind of leads more to the research I did on peer mentorship. As I said before, occupational injustice occurs when people who want employment aren’t able to because of systematic barriers. And so my research here was more about employment and peer mentorship, which were two areas that are really lacking research. There’s just not a big body of literature on that. And that given that MOPD is opening up this employment center, I felt like it was a great opportunity to work on this research while I was there.
Emily, when you set out to look at this question of the impact of mentorship for people with disabilities in your research, did you have sort of an initial goal or a research question that was really centering your work and your approach?
So the approach I took was to do a scoping review. And so I started with over 1000 articles, and we only ended up with 12 that met our criteria. So basically, that just shows you there’s not nearly enough research on such a huge body of people. So the purpose of my research and kind of what initiated it was I just wanted to see how much is there out there. Because you don’t want to do a study if there’s not even a foundation for that body of literature. And then from there, future programs can kind of build on that. So it was more about seeing where do we still have to bridge the gap in literature before we can even start doing more programs.
So what did you find? What, what were the biggest gaps that you noticed in terms of what’s working and what can really be improved?
The most common threads that came out were that the person with a disability wasn’t having their voice heard as often. The results were about what the peer mentor got out of the program, but not enough about what the mentee the person with a disability got out of the program. So that was a huge like a glaring barrier there. They recommended frequent check-ins practicing actual job skills and providing disability training to the mentors. So these are all things that they saw as gaps or things that weren’t addressed that should be addressed in the future.
So I think you’re really clearly illustrating how this research aligned with MOPDs work on mentorship.
Like I said MOPD focuses on promoting equity and inclusion for people with disabilities in the city of Chicago. But we also know from various statistics and various studies from the census that comes out every year that people with disabilities are employed at a much lower rate than people without disabilities. And so in a way to sort of bridge that gap was to pilot this peer mentorship program. Commissioner Rachel Arfa is the highest ranking deaf official in city government and so she’s very passionate about this and Deputy Commissioner Christina McGleam, they both recognize the importance of peer mentorship at all stages of life and they’ve had peer mentors throughout their life. And so they felt it was extremely important to engage peer mentorships when seeking it and obtaining employment.
MOPD launched the mentorship program in partnership with Microsoft and Aspire in February of 2022. The project paired Microsoft employees with young adults with disabilities seeking careers in tech. Emily’s coinciding research revealed no other examples of mentorship programs quite like it, making this three prong collaboration between a government body, a company, and a nonprofit organization, notably unique.
When I disseminated my research, when I kind of laid it all out, I realized that all of the areas that these programs lacked, we had accidentally somehow done all of them, we had somehow implemented them far before I ever knew that those were recommendations for future programs. So that was kind of fun, knowing that MOPD had done such a good job of building
out this program and structuring it, and that we were somehow taking from the literature without knowing it, how to improve programs. So that that was cool for me.
Yeah, and I know that Aspire has been so proud to team up with MOPD and Microsoft to be a part of this. So let’s talk a little bit more about what those impacts were. First off, what are some of the biggest outcomes that you’ve observed so far?
So I think the biggest outcomes were probably that there were social relationships built with their peer mentor and peer mentee, very valuable job skills, and then things that they can use as an actual outcome, like a physical outcome were the resumes, the mock interview skills, all of that. So I think those were probably the biggest outcomes for the mentee, and mentor pairs. But I think the biggest outcomes generally are showing that these type of programs can be very successful even on a volunteer basis. The mentors all volunteered for this position. And they were very involved, as well as the mentees they met more often than they were required to. And so I think this program can kind of show how you can bring in all these different sectors, all these different bodies, and produce a really successful program that can lead to employment pathways.
I had the chance to meet with one of the mentorship pairs from this program to learn more about the outcomes from their perspective.
Hi, my name is Tony Ceccato. I work at Microsoft. I’m a Principal Program Manager within the MS Federal side of the business.
And I am Anthony, Iacovetti, and I am a staging associate at CPT Network Solutions. So I basically set up and configure like devices and other kinds of electrical equipment.
Anthony and Tony, thank you for being here. When you learned about this opportunity, what was appealing to you about it?
Mentorships have always been a priority for me. I’ve been involved with high tech industry for 25+ years now. And every opportunity that I’ve been given to either talk with kids, students in high school, or folks in college, or or even young adults that are new to the industry and wanting
to figure out how do they move forward? How do they continue their their journey? So when I saw this pop up as an opportunity within an email, I quickly jumped on it.
And Anthony, what about you what sparked your interest?
Well, what had sparked my interest like in this was because I am actually studying for the CompTIA A+ IT exam and to have like a better job like in the IT industry and so you know, here was a perfect opportunity to have a foot like in the door.
The two of you have really gone above and beyond in terms of you know, meeting with each other far beyond the expectations, you know, of the project and really connecting and having a great relationship. So I’m hoping you can share a little bit about why you think, you know, the two of you have had such success.
I think that, that it’s because, you know, he’s so like, eager to help out someone, and I’m so eager to all find that, that next step, and you know, I’m smart, and he’s smart. And, you know, it’s just, you know, I think that it’s all that combination that is just expanding our interests more into just like to achieve something.
When I first met Anthony, I, you know, we talked about, you know, who he was, what is what is what excites him, what is his interest? And that just makes things so much easier. And we have a relationship, you know, each of us have a so called disability that we have to work through. I don’t see anything from Anthony or talking with him that he sees that’s a limitation in any way. I see a lot of him or like, when I was young, and I had, you know, my, my disabilities, for me, it, it actually strengthened my my perseverance, it made me really try harder, because I knew people when they see me for the first time, my my disability is a has to do with the way I walk. And it’s always something that you could tell folks see that very quickly, but it’s always in the back of my mind. And so I really try hard to be sure that, you know, the perception that I give, the way I talk, the way I listen, is always first and foremost, because that’s a big part of forming a type of relationships. And I see that with Anthony, there is no hesitation, as far as you know, him wanting to work with me and me wanting to work with him, and really get to those next steps.
All similar, you know, it’s, you know, again, he’s a very smart guy, and, you know, he was able to face like, you know, his vulnerabilities, and still work through them. You know, me having Asperger’s I see as a as a super ability, but it’s my issues come with OCD, and the anxiety issues. And so I’m forced to also, you know, face my vulnerabilities, you know, every single day, and it’s just both of us, who are being forced to, in the end makes you stronger. You know, so when you’re forced to confront something, and still have the willpower to, you know, move forward with your dreams and desires. It’s just pretty cool. And, you know, I think that you know, me that me and Tony share that.
It’s really amazing to see that it was such a natural process for you both and I can hear just in the way you’re talking about each other, that there is really like a joint empowerment. So I- I’d love to hear maybe some self discovery examples. Is there anything that you’ve really started to notice or appreciate about yourself in this process?
Yeah, I noticed that it’s like, even though there’s the unknown, that is always coming up, I feel more comfortable, uh, stepping into that, and just getting out of my comfort zone, and to just, you know, still, again, to strive, and it’s becoming a more and more easier, you know.
I always take all these opportunities, whether I’m teaching or learning, there’s always something to take away from it. And, you know, working with Anthony, it helps me slow down, it helps me make sure what I’m saying makes sense, resonates. And I’m not just trying to talk things off of a script of what I did before. Right, that doesn’t always make sense with with a new person that I’m talking with or mentoring in this case. But it also is going to help me within my day-to-day job as well, too, about how I work and listen with people, whether my peers, whether my boss, whether are people that I work with, on a day-to-day basis. So, again, I love these opportunities, it’s great.
When the project comes to the end, you know, do you think you’ll stay in touch?
So it’s gonna be an open book for me and a invitation for Anthony to contact me for whatever reason he wants to, because my goal is to, you know, help him grow in every- any way I can, to hopefully be successful in whatever dreams he wants. And it really gives me an opportunity not to only teach but also reflect on all the stuff that I’ve done. You know, we forget that when you’re working with younger folks that are doing stuff that you did 25, 30 years ago. It’s really a joy to see how all the learnings that I’ve had all the mentors that I’ve had, have really helped shape
me. And so it makes me feel very, very good inside that I’m now giving that same learnings to a person, just like I was 25, 30 years ago. So thank you.
Of course, you’re welcome. A similar note, it’s a thank you for providing me with, with these opportunities, and, you know, helping me out and make my new resume and basically, to get my name out there. So I think, just, you know, having you be there, you know, helped me like to expand out, you know, my name, and basically like opening up new doors for me. So thank you very much.
You’re welcome. Definitely. We have more to do.
Oh, yeah, of course.
Finally, we’ll hear some of Emily’s thoughts on why companies should support employment, through mentorship.
I think that mentorship is important for everyone, people with or without disabilities, especially when you’re entering a new field or into a new job, a new position. But I also think it’s something that should be implemented universally. I think companies don’t realize that employing people with disabilities increases diversity in your workplace, it increases the morale on the job, employing people with disabilities makes for a better workplace. And so I think companies, hopefully based on what we’ve done with MOPD and Aspire and Microsoft have done, we’ll start seeing peer mentorship as an important piece for everyone and especially people with disabilities.
Thank you to my guests, Emily, Tony, and Anthony, and to Microsoft and MOPD for their partnership. Today marks the final episode of our fourth season of Amplify Inclusion. We look forward to bringing you all new episodes in our next season kicking off this July. Thank you for your support and for choosing to be a part of the inclusive movement with Aspire. Please stay connected with us at AspireChicago.com and don’t forget to rate, review, and subscribe to Amplify Inclusion. This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound. This season was made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation and members of the Aspire community.
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