What is Project SEARCH?


Project SEARCH is a one year, high school transition program which provides training and education leading to employment for individuals with disabilities. Project SEARCH serves as an alternative for students in their last year of high school. Three elective high school credits can be earned for successful completion of the Project SEARCH program. Great Oaks, along with their 36 affiliated schools, sponsors the program. Each student applies to the program and is accepted through a selection committee process. Adults with disabilities may apply and be accepted if there is space available. All students (high school and adult) must be eligible for services with the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission to participate.

If available, students take public transportation to the host business site. Each student participates in three to four 10-week internships during the school year. There, the student learns job specific skills while having the opportunity to put employability skills into practice. Students participate in monthly progress meetings to define their career goal and plan necessary steps to achieve that goal.

The cornerstone of Project SEARCH is total immersion in a large business. For five days a week, students report to the host business, learn employability skills in the classroom and job skills while participating in a variety of internships/experiences. Managers at the internship sites work with the Project SEARCH staff to support the students during the day. Students get continual feedback from the internship manager, co-workers and Project SEARCH staff. Each program has a certified special education teacher and job coaches that work with both the students and the business staff. Students end their day by reflection, problem solving, planning and journaling their key learning's. The ultimate goal upon program completion and graduation utilizing the skills learned on the internships and throughout the program.

How did Project SEARCH evolve? 

Project SEARCH was developed in 1996 by Nurse J. Erin Riehle, then the Director of the Emergency room at Cincinnati Children's Hospital MedicalCenter. She was in need of a reliable worker to stock supplies. She worked with Jennifer Linnabary, a job developer with the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (current Project SEARCH Employment Coordinator) and Susie Rutkowski, Great Oaks Manager of Disability Education (current Project SEARCH Educational Specialist). They selected Annie Sublet!, who has Down Syndrome to work in the emergency department. Annie now works full time at Children's Hospital 15 room Dental Clinic where she sterilizes and sorts instruments and is very successful. Since then, the program has grown nationwide. Project SEARCH administrators have helped replicate the program in cities such as Seattle, Vancouver (WA), Atlanta and Nashville as well as other locations in Ohio and across the country.

PROJECT SEARCH is a collaboration among four entities:

  • Cincinnati Children's Hospital MedicalCenter
  • Great Oaks Instituted of Technology and Career Development
  • Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (ORSC)
  • Hamilton CountyBoard of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities    (MRDD)

These entities are vital to the support of a host business. Great Oaks provides the instructor, job coaches as well as follow along support services for any student who is hired. ORSC and MRDD provide rehabilitation counseling and support and finally, Cincinnati Children's Hospital is the flagship for replication and provides overall leadership to Project SEARCH nationwide. The business provides a training classroom, a business liaison and rotational internships for on-the-job training.  In the Cincinnati area there are 6 programs:

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital                                  Cincinnati, OH started in 1996

Clinton Memorial Hospital                                          Wilmington, OH started in 1999

Provident Bank, Fifth Third Bank in 2005                 Cincinnati, OH started in 2001

Mercy Hospital Western Hills                          Cincinnati, OH started in 2004

Hamilton County Park District                        Cincinnati, OH started in 2005

Xavier University                                            Cincinnati, OH started in 2005

*Fifth Third became involved when Teresa Tanner, former employee of Provident Bank (Provident was acquired by National City in 2004) obtained executive support to host a Project SEARCH classroom at Madisonville Operations Center beginning in August 2005.


Project SEARCH currently has a grant with the Developmental Disabilities Council in Ohio to replicate Project SEARCH around the state. Six new sites began in September of 2006 with more programs slated to begin in the coming years. States such as Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida and Washington also have statewide initiatives to develop Project SEARCH programs.


For Michigan information contact:
Jill Gerrie
Director of Systems Change
Disability Network/Michigan
1476 Haslett Road
Haslett, Michigan  48840
(517) 339-0539 voice
(517) 339-0805 fax