OHSU UCEDD has been developing disability professionals for 20 years

July 7, 2021

The Institute on Development & Disability at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) UCEDD starts each summer with a group of fresh-faced interns hoping to inspire a career path that includes helping people with disabilities. Sometimes the UCEDD is lucky enough to be part of students' journeys beyond the eight-week summer internship program. One of those students, Aleena West, has worked with the UCEDD as an intern in the Summer Internship Program (SIP), a student worker, and now currently a research assistant.

"We are so fortunate to be a part of shaping the next generation of disability and health professionals. I am especially proud that our program focuses on training opportunities for students with disabilities or students who are from diverse communities and backgrounds. Occasionally we come across a student with a strong passion for the work who then continues on with us as they finish their high school or college career, such as Aleena West. It is a mutual learning experience as our students contribute so much." says Rhonda Eppelsheimer, UCEDD Director.

As a SIP intern, Aleena mainly worked in the areas of sexual health education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. After her time in the program, she attended the AUCD National Conference to learn more about disability and health. As a student worker, she engaged in work pertaining to disability justice, including the Disability Justice Snapshot, and health promotion program planning for transition-age young adults with IDD. Now, as a research assistant, her work centers around gaining grant writing experience and helping coordinate the SIP program, which she interned for three summers ago.

"My work at the UCEDD feels very full-circle," says Aleena. "For me, the most meaningful parts of the internship program were learning more about issues that impact the disability community and contributing to the OHSU UCEDD's work. I wanted to be a SIP intern because I was majoring in public health, had previous experiences volunteering and working in disability inclusion, and I am a sibling of a person with a disability. Before my internship, I had never learned about the issues regarding sexual health rights for people with disabilities. Being able to learn more about disability history and engage in sexual health advocacy work as an intern made me a better advocate and was meaningful to those around me, personally and professionally. After the SIP program, I wanted to continue pursuing disability advocacy and public health work. Now, I am excited to welcome new interns to the UCEDD and help them grow as advocates."

For more intern perspectives on their journey with the UCEDD Summer Internship Program and beyond, check out this OHSU Week podcast episode: https://soundcloud.com/ohsuweek/ohsu-university-center-for-excellence-in-developmental-disabilities