Everybody deserves an opportunity

For the past several months, Urban Decision Group (UDG) has provided internship opportunities for two students from Oakstone Academy in Westerville, Ohio. Oakstone Academy is a private school (preschool through grade 12) chartered by the State of Ohio that provides an inclusive environment for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Oakstone allows students to be full participants in the classroom with peers without autism spectrum challenges. In 2008, Oakstone started an internship program encouraging students to work in a variety of industries, from clerical work at an insurance company to dish washing at restaurants. All kids on the autism spectrum have different talents and challenges; therefore, Oakstone is constantly in search of employers that can provide a variety of experiences that can challenge and motivate their kids.

UDG has been thrilled to work with Oakstone Academy to provide a unique internship opportunity that challenges the creative limits of their students. Two Oakstone high school students have been working at our main office with Urban Decision Group’s principal, Rick Stein since September. Each week, Kyle and Robby –along with their supervisor, Jill McQuaid–are given a new task dealing directly with urban planning and/or geographic information systems (GIS). To date, the students have been exposed to the wonderful world of U.S. Census data, Google PublicTransit Data, and regional bicycle transportation networks.


Oakstone interns and their supervisor diligently download data.

We’re writing this blog post to highlight our latest and greatest interns, Kyle and Robby. They’ve done a fantastic job and Urban Decision Group is lucky to have them. Moreover, this is something we believe in. Kyle and Robby, as you’ll see below, are smart, talented kids, and they deserve the opportunity to challenge themselves in a work environment. There are special schools similar to Oakstone all over the country – please consider reaching out to one in your area to set up a similar internship program.

And, without further ado, our interns and their supervisor:


Kyle’s perspective

When I was first introduced to the idea of working at Urban Decision Group, I was skeptical. My first response was “no I’m not interested,” but when the opportunity was further explained I started to consider it. I may have a stubborn personality, but nonetheless I attempted what I originally thought wouldn’t interest me. Eventually I had given the job a chance and, before I knew it, I had a change of heart.

The process which my boss Rick Stein explained the procedures was very involved. He explained his goals and methods very thoroughly. This is very important for anyone who manages employees and sets the tone for the vital exchange of communication with employee and employer. With that stated, I never felt uncomfortable asking questions or for help. He’s a really good man with a good sense of what should be done. For example, he created his own map of bus routes from the COTA (Central Ohio Transit Authority) system which COTA didn’t have and it only took him around 30 minutes to lay it out. He really is helping people and the community.

“How does this job compare to the previous jobs you’ve held?”

During my hours at a national pet store, my previous job, I first thought it was within my interest area to deal with the animals and such. That soon changed after adjusting to the usual shift at maintenance. It was mainly the cleaning I didn’t enjoy. But here at Urban Decision Group, I work with what I’m used to as a hobby: with technology, files, computers, and the web.

Also, this job is more relaxed with very little noise or commotion. Unlike the pet store, I only need to interact with a few people in person and, if needed, I could work within the comfort of my home. Also, I’ve got more to offer than just cleaning up after animals. This gets my creative juices flowing and keeps my brain stimulated instead of mindless labor.

“What aspects of GIS and/or Urban Planning do you find interesting?”

GIS and Urban Planning are not really within my areas of interest. However, I do think it’s vital to my learning experience through their use of technology in a job environment. I feel confident at this job and it seems to open doors to similar areas within my interest. It’s mainly the cause that I’m working for – maybe if I was working with the same environment, or just different data on a project I that can directly relate to, then that would be nice.

Examples of data I can relate to include creating banners for websites, posters, digital design and, if it’s working with files, I would prefer it be pertaining to a server, or game, or gaming servers like I’m doing now on my spare time.

The Google Earth application really caught my eye because of its vast complexity and astounding features along with satellite photos.

“Please describe your dream job.”

My dream job would probably not be too different from the environment which I’m in today.
The work environment would consist of a relaxed environment with the option to work within my home and still have an office I can go to – similar to a “homework style” work setting. I would always have a supervisor who I may ask for help or ask questions. I would be working from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday-Friday. Preferably within 30 minutes from my house by car.

My comfort level strongly needs a supervisor, or structured environment, but at the same time I’d like the options above. The purpose of my job (or company goal) would be supporting a game company/content and/or a graphic arts design requests as a profitable hobby.

Robby’s perspective

I had a lack of confidence when first starting this internship. I beat myself up over the judgment of other people and over-thought things a lot, which lead me to think that I’m inferior to others’ standards. The day that my internship started I knew I would try my best and learn what I could. Another thing I fear is the unknown. I rely on logic and things I know that I can prove to be true since I like things to make sense. After the first day of interning, I realized that I had lots of potential to do this job. Sometimes I doubt my abilities and degrade myself into thinking that I can’t do things the correct way. I learned some things that I never knew and have a passion for this internship. The things I learned along the way were how to download transit data, Census tracts, use Google Earth to plot out buildings for a retirement home in New York, and how to collect data on bicycle paths in networks. I feel like I’m putting a lot of effort into helping a greater cause. I realized that you must have faith in your abilities or it will weigh you down in the end and prevent you from being successful in life. I feel like you have to give things a chance to see if it’s right for you. When I was interviewed, I came with the mindset that I was going to hate this internship and it wasn’t for me. The reason I felt that way was because I had a lot of information fed to me at once. I have limits on the amount of information given to me; I tend to filter out jargon if the information is too much.

“How does this job compare to the previous jobs you’ve held?”

This job is ranked second in jobs I liked, the first being at an aquarium store since I felt comfortable at that internship and I seemed to open up. I like order to things. If things are abstract, then I tend to panic (mostly on the inside so no one knows that I feel like that) so I’m not considered rude.

“What aspects of GIS and/or Urban Planning do you find interesting?”

I have mixed feelings. I liked some of it and hate some of it. I find some of it boring and repetitive -downloading Census data for all 50 states and searching for pictures pertaining to bicycles can get old fast. I did manage to learn different file types such as png, jpeg, kmz, kml, and other file types that have odd suffixes. I feel that this job is within my field of interest if there is anything art involved or includes coding in languages like SQL and XML.

“Please describe your dream job.”

My dream job would be working with big gaming companies like Valve, Steam, Blizzard, Capcom, or a few others. I’m a huge gamer and take great passion in such. If you were to sit down with me in a room and talk about games you would be there for two days. I have a vast collection of video games and consoles dating back to the NES. I’ve always wanted to make a video game. I want the player feel what the characters feel and make like you live his or her life and struggles that he or she has to overcome. I love games that tell a story and make you feel like that world is real, and I also love a good plot within a game -something that could be compared to a novel. I feel that this internship is one of the many steps to becoming a game developer.

Jill McQuaid’s take

In my years at Oakstone Academy, I have assisted dozens of high school students in community-based internships aimed at helping them advance their cognitive, social and behavioral skills. While students at Oakstone Academy, these young people with disabilities have been immersed into an inclusive education setting for years as they have worked alongside their typically developing peers. It has been my passion to secure them with internship experiences during their transitional years that are equally inclusive in nature.

The students have spent many hours in a classroom learning the skills necessary for successful employment. When given a chance to apply these skills to a real-life work experience, the students have become empowered to understand the impact of their abilities to a real world situation. The work these two young boys are doing with Rick at Urban Decision Group has given them a place to come and realize what they are capable of offering to the work force.

Robby and Kyle were both very nervous about starting at Urban Decision Group. This work site has helped them step outside their comfort zone and work through the anxiety of new challenging expectations. The nature of this internship gives these students a chance to see a big project as a whole, and then learn from Rick as he breaks their assignments down into smaller segments to make them more manageable. They have been taught this strategy for years in school and now they can see it applied to real life. It is my hope that they will be able to relate to their experiences here to more effectively handle future situations with confidence.

Overall, this internship has taught the boys the meaning of self-advocacy, honesty and respect. They have learned to confidently ask questions when they don’t understand or when they feel overwhelmed with a situation. Rick’s responses are understandable and concise, complete and to the point, which is how our students learn best. This internship has offered them an experience that does not pass judgment on what challenges them socially, intellectually and emotionally. We are thankful that Urban Decision Group has opened their doors to our students here at Oakstone Academy!


And there you have it. Thanks again, Jill for bringing us these great interns. Thanks to Kyle and Robby for their brutal honesty and hard work (is downloading Census data really that boring?). We’re really looking forward to continuing this relationship, and would also like to encourage other firms, big and small, to look into opening their offices for similar internship programs.

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