Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD)
Alan Muir, Founding Executive Director
Mary Jean Billingsley has conducted Dining Etiquette training at the COSD FULL ACCESS Student Summit since 2008. At these eight Student Summits, Mary Jean has taught more than 400 college students and recent graduates with disabilities, as well as more than 200 employer representatives and other COSD staff and attendees. The training, now known as “Lasting Impressions: Business and Dining Etiquette,” is an integral part of the Student Summit, as it represents a further step in the career development process of students with disabilities. Historically, this population of students has had little to no meaningful interaction with employers, heightening anxiety at an eventual interview and, in turn, lessening the chance of success in landing a career of their choice. At the Student Summit, we provide that meaningful interaction between the employers and students. At our formal business dinner, both students and employers are seated together at the tables to maximize networking. Mary Jean provides the training in such a way, particularly to this population, that helps students feel very comfortable in meeting employers for the first time and encourages them to ask great questions.
On our Student Summit evaluations, students consistently state they have learned valuable lessons of how to conduct themselves at a business meal and now understand that behaviors beyond a meal situation have significant impact on their chances of success in attaining employment. Over the years, several students have stated that Mary Jean’s training is one of their main highlights of the Student Summit.
On the employer side, I speak with many employers about the Student Summit, including Mary Jean’s presentation. For employers who have not previously attended the Student Summit they are intrigued with the idea and see the direct correlation to the goal of teaching students with disabilities to have confidence in themselves and their abilities to land the best job for them. The employers who have attended previous Student Summits, continue to rave about Mary Jean’s style and elegance in presenting the content and her sense of humor in answering questions from the students, as well as the employers, who also learn something new each time. All of those qualities enhance the experience and help students remember what they have been taught, making it quite the “Lasting Impression.”
I have known Mary Jean since 2003 and she has always struck me as an extremely compassionate person, who cares deeply about success for students transitioning to a career. Her experience in higher education career services, coupled with her love of food and style have made a highly effective combination of skills to spice up what could be a very dry topic into one that is greatly interactive and fun for the students and employers alike.