QESST Students Sponsored at AccessERC Program to Address Accessibility and Diversity

Achievement date: 

Two scholars from the NSF-funded Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center (ERC)—Silvana Ayala Pelaez from the University of Arizona (UA) and Mehdi Leilaeioun from Arizona State University (ASU)—were awarded travel grants from the AccessERC project at the University of Washington (UW). The awards allowed Pelaez and Leilaeioun to represent QESST at a national forum sponsored by The DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center, a UW-based research center dedicated to promoting inclusion and success for people with disabilities.


Participants of the DO-IT Center’s Forum broadened their understanding of diversity and were invited to bring their new knowledge back to their hosting ERCs. Palaez and Leilaeioun learned creative and practical ideas on how to make the QESST ERC more inclusive of people with disabilities; how to improve the QESST website; and how to make the QESST curriculum more accessible for students with disabilities.


As home to multiple programs, DO-IT administers the AccessERC program and hosts Capacity Building Institutes throughout the calendar year. The three-day workshop held at UW in Seattle on January 24-26, 2017 brought together 20 leaders from ERCs throughout the nation to learn about education and accessibility as well as opportunities for making engineering more inclusive. The program consisted of hands-on experiences, videos, and discussion with individuals with disabilities.

Palaez and Leilaeioun will continue their connection to AccessERC through a community of practice that provides insight on how to make engineering courses and careers more inclusive and how to integrate universal design into the engineering curriculum. Currently, the QESST webpage and other documents published online are undergoing review to ensure accessibility, and a webinar is being planned with the help of AccessERC on how to be more inclusive in QESST activities.