Mercyhurst OASIS program gains momentum at North East


The OASIS program at Mercyhurst University – The North East Campus has confirmed its highest enrollment for the 2013-14 academic year.

OASIS, which stands for “Opportunities and Advancement for Students with Intellectual Disabilities for Self-Determination,” is a one-year, proficiency-based certificate program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities age 18 and older. The non-credit program enables students to actively observe and participate in college-level cooking, baking and hospitality courses alongside North East students. The vocational training is intended to help facilitate employment for students completing the program.

Nine students are slated to begin their studies this fall: eight in the culinary program, and one in hospitality, reports Sara Kitchen, program director. She noted that the appeal of this unique program is far-reaching, prompting students to commute to North East from Cambridge Springs and Fairview.

“We’re gaining quite the positive reputation,” Kitchen said. “I’ve been fielding a lot of phone calls from all kinds of locations. This year’s incoming students are very enthusiastic, and looking forward to getting a full college experience on the Mercyhurst North East campus.”

OASIS began in 2008 as a collaboration with Erie Homes for Children and Adults (EHCA). The program was also supported by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).

Students in the culinary program choose a concentration – assistant baker, prep cook or pantry cook – and complete a 60-hour culinary internship at a local restaurant or business upon completion of their in-class instruction. They also take Food Service Sanitation, which provides the opportunity for ServSafe certification.

Students in the new hospitality program will learn general aspects of restaurant and hotel operations, including interacting with guests out front and working with staff in the back.

All OASIS students benefit from working with the program facilitator and their peer mentor, learning “soft skills” like punctuality, following a schedule, problem solving, filling out job applications and completing job interviews. 

For more information, contact Sara Kitchen, at 814-725-6250 or

PHOTO: Student Kari Birchard

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