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Student Success Story

Submitted By: Christine Gascon, Santiago Canyon College Division of Continuing Edu
Consortium: Rancho Santiago Adult Education Consortium

Meet Michelle

Program Area(s): Adults with Disabilities, Other

The Challenge

When she was around two years old, Michelle was diagnosed with autism. After completing public school, she found employment in a sheltered workshop doing piecework earning 90 cents an hour. Michelle was very shy and withdrawn. The piecework in the sheltered workshop did not challenge Michelle or allow her to reach her potential. Her family worried that she would never be able to work in a typical job that would allow her to support herself.

The Solution

A collaboration between several community and educational organizations gave Michelle the opportunity to earn a spot in the Gillman Project SEARCH Program with CHOC Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Michelle’s service coordinator, Gloria Choi, at the Regional Center of Orange County encouraged her to apply to the program. After completing the in-depth selection process, Michelle was one of ten people selected from the program out of 35 applicants. Integrated Resources Institute (IRI) provided skills-building support for Michelle throughout the skills training program. In addition, she was enrolled at Santiago Canyon College where she and the other students participated in noncredit courses geared at workforce preparation for adults with intellectual disabilities. The AEBG Adults with Disabilities Coordinator, Angela Guevara, has developed curriculum that aligns with the Project SEARCH program as well as the AEBG guidelines of creating a seamless transition into the workforce.

During the program, Michelle served rotations in Food Services, Bio-Med, and Plant Operations. Michelle started by just preparing trays for hot food but her job has expanded to include wide-ranging responsibilities. IRI provided 100% support for Michelle while she was acquiring job skills, while Santiago Canyon College provided the education in soft skills and workforce preparation. As the program progressed and Michelle gained more skills, the time spent with the IRI skills trainer decreased.


After completing her third rotation with Project SEARCH, and proving that she was capable of working independently, Michelle was hired by CHOC in Food Services. She currently works as a per diem employee earning $15 an hour. An IRI job coach is available if she needs help. Michelle hopes to work her way up to a part-time position, and eventually a full-time position, when one becomes available. With her new salary, Michelle is now able to pay some of her own bills while she continues to live at home. She is also saving money so that she can one day move out on her own.