Students Participate in SIPI Pilot

Feb 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 21-3: Tribal College Faculty, Spring 2010, Tribal College News

On the campus of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI, Albuquerque, NM), 12 students with disabilities were recently interviewed for summer and permanent jobs with the federal government. Under the guidance of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Cecelia Cometsevah, the students participated in the Workforce Recruitment Plan (WRP) pilot study exploring the use of video teleconferencing for student interviews.

As an advocate for students with disabilities, Cometsevah (Cheyenne and Navajo) says, “This pilot project was an excellent opportunity for our American Indian students with disabilities to utilize their educational talents by allowing our students exposure into the workforce arena.”

Cheryle Cobell Zwang, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana and Deputy State Director for Communications at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Boise, Idaho, is a co-lead in the pilot study with Edward Paulsgrove, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque, NM.

Born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, MT, Zwang understands the barriers that students

enrolled in often-remote tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) can face applying for jobs. “Students are interviewed, in this case via video teleconference; their information is input into a database; and federal officials might contact them directly to make job offers. The WRP also provides authority for federal agencies to hire students with disabilities without further competition,” Zwang says.

Each year, WRP trains and schedules volunteer federal interviewers to go to participating colleges and interview at least eight students with disabilities for potential federal jobs. However, Zwang says, the WRP is not well known among TCUs, and last year, no TCUs participated in the WRP.

The goals of the pilot study are to increase the number of TCUs participating in the WRP and to increase the number of students with disabilities hired by the federal government. Asked what they thought about being interviewed using video teleconferencing, several students said the process made it easier for them than face-to-face interviews.

“Employers may not be aware of the high quality of students listed on the WRP database,” Zwang says. “We must battle the stereotypes employers hold about people with disabilities. The students I have met and interviewed are impressive, and they would make great federal employees.”

Cecelia Cometsevah MA, LMHC, vocational rehabilitation counselor (SIPI), and Kris Long, public affairs specialist, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho State Office, co-authored this news brief. To learn more about the WRP, visit the website,

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