OASIS student cooks up recipe for success


Kari Birchard knows her recipe for success: The OASIS Program at Mercyhurst University.

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 program allows students to actively observe and participate in college-level cooking, baking and hospitality courses alongside North East students in an effort to provide vocational training to help facilitate gainful employment.

Birchard is one of two students graduating from the OASIS Program at 6 p.m. July 18 in the Alex Theatre, located at Mercyhurst North East.

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). The program launched with the opportunity for students to explore a culinary concentration, and will expand to include a hospitality concentration in fall 2013.

Students in pursuit of the new hospitality certificate will learn general aspects of restaurant and hotel operations, including guest services and housekeeping, in the classroom and with an internship.

Birchard is currently finishing up her 60-hour culinary internship at Tops Friendly Markets, where she prepares and portions antipasto salad, makes pizzas and assists with breading chicken. At Tops, she is able to apply the skills she learned at the OASIS Program related to preparing and weighing food and ingredients; monitoring sanitation and kitchen safety; and following directions in a fast-paced kitchen environment. According to Sara Kitchen, OASIS program facilitator, the partnership has been beneficial for both Birchard and Tops.

“The staff at Tops has been overwhelmingly helpful,” she said. “They have expressed their sincere appreciation for the work Kari has been doing on several occasions.”

The OASIS Program gives students like Birchard the opportunity to feel confident in and out of the workplace.

“When Kari entered the program in fall 2012, she was very shy,” said Kitchen. “The OASIS Program helped her blossom into a very independent and mature young lady, who also has lots of great culinary skills.”

For more information, contact Sara Kitchen, OASIS Program facilitator, at 814-725-6250 or skitchen@mercyhurst.edu.

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