Teen finds meaningful summer job helping students with disabilities

young woman standing in front of colorful wall tiles

During the early days of the pandemic, with most schoolwork and socializing taking place on a screen, Sierra Olsen came to an important realization about her future. “I decided that I didn’t want a job where I just sat in front of a computer,” she said.

That knowledge eventually led to a summer position with Transition to Work (TTW), an employment exploration program for teens and young adults served by the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Olsen worked this summer as a “discovery specialist,” helping students try out a variety of community job settings, including the NNEMAP food pantry.

“Sierra is awesome,” said Dave Cosart, employment services manager at Hattie Larlham, the disability-services nonprofit that administers the TTW program. “We had such a great group of staff this year – a good mix of college students and veterans.”

Olsen, 19, attends Ohio Dominican University and is studying to be a K-12 intervention specialist. She counts the TTW position as the best job experience she’s had so far:

No offense to Panera, but you say TTW is a lot more fun.

I enjoy this job way more than the others I’ve had. I like working with students with disabilities – in school, I was friends with kids, and I really enjoyed helping them with homework, that sort of thing. I thought this would be a great experience.

Why do you think you find the field so appealing?

I’m an optimist. I always try to aim for the positive, and look at people’s strengths, while still trying to understand their challenges.

You do have a fair amount of responsibility as a discovery specialist. That’s probably not always easy, right?

It can be a little bit intimidating at first, but once you start and get to know the students, it’s great. You see a lot of growth.

It must feel good to play a part in that growth.

It’s really rewarding. But it’s not because of me! My students were great even before I knew them. They just are.