Interaction Under the Window
The shortage of STEM workers in the U.S. has become a national epidemic. The White House is taking action by increasing STEM-related jobs.

The federal government’s desired goal is to have every child learn computer science by asking Congress to fund a new $4 billion program for states and another $100 million for districts to train educators and purchase the necessary learning tools.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all of the non-medical fields of science and engineering, is searching for sustainable solutions for increasing STEM retention in students with disabilities.

The government foundation is taking steps towards making progress by funding the UCF Interdisciplinary Coaching as a Nexus for Transforming How Institutions Support Undergraduates in STEM’s (iCAN) two-year, $250,000 project.

The iCAN model is using coaching and mobile technology to impact retention of UCF undergraduate students with disabilities who are majoring in STEM programs (e.g., Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Last Fall, UCF’s team visited Landmark College in Putney, Vt., an institution of higher learning that has been offering college-level studies to students with dyslexia for more than 30 years. Today, the college provides integrated teaching methods to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The project team, which includes principal investigator and CEDHP exceptional education associate professor Dr. Matthew Marino and co-principal investigator and exceptional education associate professor Dr. Eleazar Vasquez, co-principal investigator and UCF mathematics associate professor Dr. Brian Moore, and Landmark College’s vice president of educational research and innovation, director of LCIRT, associate professor, and co-principal investigator Dr. Manju Banerjee will methodically examine how Landmark College’s prototype can increase persistence of UCF STEM students with disabilities.

“Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of undergraduates who intend to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree,” says Marino. “The notion is to prevent or decrease the overall percentage, so they can persist and become successful as a STEM major.”

The group created a plan for iCAN, targeted at 200 students and will be implemented next year. The model of supports include master’s and doctorate students coaching and mentoring undergraduate STEM students with disabilities by communicating with the mobile web conferencing app Adobe Connect.

Engaging Interaction

iCAN’s main purpose is to ensure STEM undergraduate students with disabilities remain in their major and get a job after they graduate from college.

“We’re impacting STEM career readiness and persistence of individuals with disabilities at the post-secondary level,” says Vasquez. “STEM is at the top of available jobs. Our goal is to help these STEM students with disabilities stay in their major and attain employment.”