Collaborating to Inspire the Interest of Students with Disabilities in STEM Studies
Through a unique collaboration with the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, Technology (DO-IT) Center, the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Washington, hosted a learning lab for 25 college and high school students with disabilities.
This collaborative activity of the CSNE engaged students with disabilities to increase their interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields—especially sensorimotor neural engineering. The activity serves as a model for others who want to promote STEM fields to youth with disabilities, and a student video posted online can help students get excited about the field.
In a post-activity survey, 92% of the students said activities like the CSNE learning lab can motivate youth with disabilities to pursue science and engineering fields. When asked if participation in the learning lab increased their interest in sensorimotor neural engineering, 80% of students said “yes.”
The NSF has noted that individuals “with disabilities are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce compared to the population as a whole.” Success stories in STEM fields demonstrate that opportunities do exist for people with disabilities who overcome barriers imposed by inaccessible facilities, instructional methods, and low expectations of stakeholders. To fill increasing numbers of positions in STEM fields, the U.S. must draw from a pool of talent that includes all demographic groups, including those with disabilities.
During the learning lab, students were introduced to CSNE staff and heard a presentation about the field of sensorimotor neural engineering and about collaborative research facilitated by the CSNE. They learned about optical illusions and pondered questions about signal processing in the visual cortex. They saw examples of brains from various small animals, interacted with devices that demonstrated action potentials in cockroach legs, and operated a wheeled robot, or “carbot.”