Published on April 12, 2021

Project SEARCH Students Land Jobs at NMMC

TUPELO, Miss.—Project SEARCH has proven to be a winning proposition for several local students and North Mississippi Medical Center.

In August 2019, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, NMMC and Tupelo Public School District partnered to bring Project SEARCH, a national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment, to north Mississippi. To date, Project SEARCH has placed 16 students with disabilities in an internship at NMMC during their last year of high school eligibility (students are often 21). Students rotate through three areas of interest at the hospital while gaining social, communication and life skills.

“This is a win-win-win opportunity,” said Sondra Davis, chief human resources officer for North Mississippi Health Services, NMMC’s parent organization. “The sponsoring organizations offer an amazing opportunity for these students, NMMC gains some valuable workers, and the students are granted a head start in a rewarding vocation.”

Three Project SEARCH students—two from the Tupelo High School Class of 2020 and one from the class of 2021—have been hired as full-time employees at NMMC.

“This is such a great program—it provides students with opportunities through their internship site that they would not otherwise have,” says Susan Dudley, who has taught in Tupelo Public School District for 23 years and serves as the Project SEARCH instructor. “It helps them figure out what kinds of jobs they like and prepares them to go to work.”

Shaniya Cook, Laundry Services

Shaniya Cook now works at NMMCShaniya Cook completed rotations at NMMC’s Laundry Services and Child Care Center before the school year ended abruptly in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She completed a three-month paid internship through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services in Laundry Services before being hired full time in November 2020.

In Laundry, employees work on a different machine every day—jobs are rotated to prevent ergonomic injuries caused by repetitive motion. Shaniya says her favorite machine is the carousel, where clean linen comes off a conveyer belt to be sorted and put on carts. She also likes her co-workers, many of whom are long-term employees and eager to help her learn the job. 

“She is one of our highest producers,” says Charles Penson, operations manager for Laundry Services, noting her strong work ethic and good attitude. “I’m proud of her. Her parents should be proud of her too. She’s amazing.”

Ryan Bullock, Food & Nutrition Services

Ryan Bullock now works at NMMCRyan Bullock completed a rotation in Biomedical Services and was in the midst of his second rotation in Food and Nutrition Services when a full-time position became available there. He was hired for the Dish Room, where his responsibilities include scraping, washing and loading dishes; wrapping silverware; unloading trucks from the Central Kitchen; and breaking down boxes for recycling.

While Ryan had hoped Project SEARCH would help him secure a job after high school, landing one while still in school was a definite bonus. He’s saving his paychecks to someday purchase a car.

“Ryan is a hard worker and willing to learn different jobs,” says Sandra Doss, buyer/coordinator and Dish Room supervisor for Food and Nutrition. “He caught on quick. I’ll give anybody a chance if they want to work.”

Leah Coleman, Central Sterile Processing

Leah Coleman now works at NMMCLeah Coleman completed rotations in Supply Processing Distribution and Central Sterile Processing before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in March. Her favorite was Central Sterile Processing, where workers ensure that instruments are properly decontaminated and sterilized for surgeons to use. From her very first day, her teacher says Leah knew she wanted to work there.

Last summer, Leah completed a three-month paid internship through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services in Central Sterile Processing. When a full-time position became available in January, managers knew just the right person for the job.

 “Leah learned very quickly,” says Cody Spencer, Central Sterile Processing manager. “She is very dedicated and hard-working.”

For more information about Project SEARCH, call the Tupelo Public School District Special Education office at (662) 841-8855 or email

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