Dr. Shanna Burke Receives Grant to Test Interview Training Software for Individuals with Disabilities at 100 Sites Across The U.S.

Dr. Shanna Burke, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, received a $130,478 grant funded by the Dan Marino Foundation, Inc. to extend a pilot study completed earlier this year focusing on the impact of a training software for individuals with disabilities preparing for job interviews.

Dr. Shanna BurkeDr. Shanna Burke

The job interview is a frequent gateway to employment; however, the process of engaging in a job interview can be anxiety-provoking as well as socially and verbally challenging. This is especially true for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. On average, 17.1 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed compared to more than 64 percent of those without disabilities (US Department of Labor, 2014). The Virtual Interactive Training Agents DMF (ViTA) is a software and curriculum designed by teams from The Dan Marino Foundation (DMF) and The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (USC-ICT). The ViTA software addresses the need for interview training and provides repeated opportunities for practice. The goal is for participants to utilize ViTA in tandem with curriculum or other intervention(s) to build confidence and improve interview skills.

This study, which builds on the collaborative relationship that has developed between Florida International University (FIU) and the Dan Marino Foundation (DMF), specifically seeks to fully understand the effectiveness of the ViTA software in improving participants’ interview and communication skills and their overall interview self-efficacy.

Before engaging in the ViTA curriculum or using the ViTA software, participants will take a pre-survey to determine current beliefs about their interviewing skills. Next, a baseline ViTA interview session will be conducted. During the interview session, a researcher or site facilitator will capture the degree to which the interviewee met specific interviewing criteria as indicated on the Marino Interview Assessment Scale (MIAS). A previous pilot level investigation established favorable results in a small sample. This investigation seeks to expand the sample within DMF and across several sites, while adding in additional measures and moderators. The four initial aims are:

  • Aim 1: Evaluate the measureable impact of ViTA software on participants’ interviewing skills.
  • Aim 2: Evaluate the measureable impact of ViTA software on participants’ perceived self-efficacy.
  • Aim 3: Evaluate the relationship between curriculum/intervention program participation and the participants’ Marino Interview Assessment Scale (MIAS) score.
  • Aim 4: Evaluate the moderation of the treatment effects by age, biological sex, program participation, and disability.

When discussing this project, she explained that it is essential because “people with autism and other developmental disabilities are highly capable, industrious workers, and an asset to the workforce. Training specific to the employment interview helps teach these individuals how to convey their strengths and talents while empowering them to position themselves as the best candidate for the job. This study seeks to examine whether the virtual avatar as a training agent can generalize the positive results we found in the pilot study to 100 sites across the United States.”

Author: Gus Ruiz

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