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KNOXVILLE — A small University of Tennessee research project has grown into the nation’s premier advocate of career programs for disabled college students and recent graduates.

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, started in 1999 to link UT’s Disability Services, Career Services and local employers, now includes more than 300 U.S. universities, corporations and government agencies, Director Alan Muir said Friday.

The organization will hold its annual meeting May 13-15 at Microsoft’s world headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Muir and Dr. Robert Greenberg, UT Career Services director, started the group after researching career planning and job placement programs for students with disabilities at 22 universities and 25 major corporations.

“There was no model program, only bits and pieces at different colleges,” Muir said. “From the employers, we found more questions than answers.”

COSD was formed to address the problem locally, Muir said, but soon expanded membership to major universities such as Columbia University, Ohio State University, San Jose State University, University of Buffalo, University of California-Berkeley and University of Washington.

Corporate sponsors include Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, Merck & Co. Inc., Hewlett-Packard, JP Morgan Chase and Motorola, he said.

NASA, Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy are among its government supporters.

“COSD plays a vital role in bringing together these organizations so we can continue to work together to eliminate the barriers of employment,” Sharyl M. Hackett, campus relations and diversity manager of Exxon Mobil-s Global Recruiting and Employment Division, said.

COSD plans to soon target historically black colleges and universities and other minority institutions, Muir said.

Keynote speaker for the annual meeting is Dr. Frederick Humphries, president and CEO of the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

For more information on COSD or membership, visit the group’s Web site at www.cosdonline.org.