Fortune 500 recruiters seek disabled students

PHILADELPHIA (U-WIRE) — As Fortune 500 companies continue to diversify their offices with different types of top-tier students, candidates with disabilities may prove to be the next target audience.

Last week, PepsiCo — the parent company of Pepsi, Frito-Lay and Tropicana — visited the University of Pennsylvania specifically to recruit students with disabilities, both physical and mental, for employment positions.

The recruitment effort, which included a dinner and formal presentation, was facilitated by Morris Street Partners, a New York-based organization that currently has projects with PepsiCo and Merrill Lynch and aims to increase the number of disabled persons in the corporate workplace.

To help companies draw in students with disabilities, Morris Street Partners hosts events that are just like standard on-campus recruitment ones but are exclusive — and tailored — to disabled students.

Last week’s initiative was PepsiCo’s first disability-focused recruitment project with Morris Street Partners, said PepsiCo Director of Executive Staffing John Delpino, who heard about Morris Street Partners through a disabled executive at PepsiCo.

After deciding to “get (their) tail wet,” Delpino said, PepsiCo officials deemed the disabled a “very important population” and decided to go after it.

And those students taking advantage of Morris Street Partners’ services are singing the company’s praises.

“The idea behind the company is inspiring,” said college freshman Julie Gutowksi, who does marketing for the company on campus.

“Hopefully, (it) will take hold on college campuses, as well as in the business world,” she said.

Gutowksi began working at Morris Street Partners after attending one of their recruitment sessions last semester with Merrill Lynch.

One Penn senior, who is currently utilizing Morris Street Partners’ services — and who refused to disclose her name because of the sensitive nature of her own disability, an auditory-processing disorder that impairs hearing — is currently in the early stages of recruitment at PepsiCo.

She called Morris Street Partners’ work “very insightful,” adding that, “as long as the disability does not affect (the person’s) performance as an employee,” why not hire them? Still, officials at Morris Street Partners say they are not offering these services just for the sake of being considerate.

“It is not about being nice — it is about being smart,” said Susan Lang, the CEO of Morris Street Partners.

Lang added that the non-profit organization approaches its work from a business perspective.

Rich Donovan, who started the organization last March, added that “Morris basically aims to bring disabled individuals into the market economy.”

Donovan, who has cerebral palsy, called the disabled a significant national minority and pointed out that “this is something that hasn’t been attempted before in a meaningful way.”

Morris Street Partners is active on five campuses and is in contact with 15 others. It will return to campus next year with a new, although not-yet-chosen, name.

Career Services, which typically organizes on-campus recruitment events, advertised the event, but most of the planning was done by Morris Street Partners themselves, Barbara Hewitt, associate director of Career Services, wrote in an e-mail.