Broad College faculty bring our values and strategic themes to life through their research and work every day. For example, Sriram Narayanan, Kesseler Family Endowed Faculty Fellow in supply chain management, has a passionate energy for inclusion. He conducts impactful research that explores how disability diversity can improve workplace productivity and has forged strong partnerships with organizations like the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Michigan Rehabilitation Services.
This year, Narayanan was honored by MRS with one of its 2021 Champion Awards for his dedicated efforts as a statewide partner. In this role, he has helped create and co-host a new podcast centered on disability employment and inclusion called Abilities, Opportunities and the Future of Work.
“Being recognized as an MRS Champion means that [MSU and MRS] have formed a successful partnership,” Narayanan said. “This is a journey, and we will continue working on the broader mission of democratizing ideas that span our multiple stakeholders on disability and employment through the podcast.”
Since 2008, MRS has presented its annual Champion Awards to recognize individuals and business and community partners who champion the cause of the organization and aid in the employment of people with disabilities.
The AOFOW podcast was an idea Narayanan first brought up to the Southeast Michigan ERG, a working group of businesses that discuss disability employment initiatives and share best practices. From there, the group devised plans and strategy for the podcast, which he and MRS’s Business Network Division have been able to bring to life.
Nacsha Ealy, business relations consultant at MRS, serves as co-host of the podcast alongside Narayanan. Together, they aim to showcase best-in-class practices on issues related to how a workforce with disabilities can be integrated, highlighting firms, community organizations, nonprofits and other state organizations that are doing outstanding work in integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and allowing them to share their stories.
Ealy and Narayanan produce episodes that feature a collection of voices, including people with disabilities, employers, researchers and activists. They also work with Tyler Gross, departmental technician at MRS, who serves as editor for the podcast, and Jenny Piatt, director of MRS’s Business Network Division.
“Because of the unique perspective Sri brings to MRS from his position in academia, he stretches the thinking and practices of MRS employees in ways they would not have without his presence. . . . Sri has provided so many innovative opportunities for MRS in a short period of time and helps us to ‘think outside of the box’ in ways we have not done before,” Ealy said in nominating Narayanan for the award.
“He is a true champion as he partners with MRS to make the workforce much more successful because of individuals with disabilities.”
The AOFOW podcast is still in its infancy but is growing quickly. Episodes to date have covered the experiences of people with disabilities working and living through the COVID-19 pandemic and a look at the Michigan Bridge Academy and its integration with MRS and work to offer disability-friendly employment in the IT industry.
Upcoming episodes will feature conversations with MSU faculty Connie Sung, associate professor in the College of Education, and Stacy Hickox, associate professor in the College of Social Science, showcasing other impactful partnerships between Spartans and MRS.
In addition, Narayanan and Ealy will host Kathy West-Evans, director of business relations for the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, to hear about her efforts on these issues at the national level.
Beyond the podcast, Narayanan and MRS are also working to plan a conference on the topic of disability and employment that would bring stakeholders together from around the country.