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Researchers receive $1.5M grant to make STEMcareers more accessibleCOE Associate Dean and Distinguished Research Professor Noel Gregg and RobertTodd, a research scientist at Georgia Tech are leading a five-year collaborative project tocreate a pipeline between secondary and post-secondary schools that will strengthenstudents with disabilities’ capacities to access and succeed in STEM programs.During the last decade, the influence of digital media has changed the way young peoplelearn, play and socialize. As a result, education researchers at the University of Georgiaand the Georgia Institute of Technology are partnering to develop an innovative learningenvironment that combines social networking and virtual 3-D communities to encouragestudents with disabilities to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematicsprograms.The UGA College of Education and Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology andEnvironmental Access are collaborating on a $1.5 million grant from the NationalScience Foundation to create the Georgia STEM Accessibility Alliance (GSAA), a five-year project aimed at giving students with disabilities greater access to STEM programsand an increased capacity to succeed in these programs from high school throughgraduate school.The goal of the GSAA is to increase the number of students with disabilities enrolling inSTEM classes and majors; increase their retention and graduation rates; and increase theirentry rate into STEM graduate programs, said principal investigator Noel Gregg,a UGADistinguished Research Professor and associate dean for research in UGA’s College ofEducation,“Through virtual mentoring and teaching, social networking, academic support, transitionassistance and preparation of instructors, the GSAA will develop new strategies foraccessibility in STEM courses and degree programs,” she said.The GSAA’s use of this model of virtual worlds and avatars will provide groundbreakingresearch on its effectiveness, scalable impact to other Georgia secondary andpostsecondary schools and insight into the national needs of secondary students withdisabilities in STEM majors.The GSAA will develop these new strategies for accessibility in mandatory freshmenSTEM courses at UGA, Georgia Tech and Georgia Perimeter College and the project hasthe potential to impact all students at these institutions. The GSAA’s secondary schoolpartners in Clarke, Greene and Gwinnett counties have more than 6,000 high schoolstudents with disabilities who could be impacted by the project.Some of the new GSAA strategies include:
• creating a mentoring/training island in the virtual world of Second Life and integrating social networking tools to allow students year-round mentoring experiences’ providing evidence-based STEM learning strategies through learning seminars and virtual learning communities; • enhancing STEM faculty and staff’s ability to educate students with disabilities u sing web-based and Second Life training modules; and • providing transition preparation and ongoing support to develop self-advocacy and academic skills essential for students with disabilities to succeed in STEM secondary and postsecondary programs.Participants will include students with all types of disabilities including those withcognitive disabilities (learning disabilities, behaviorial/emotional disorders, and milintellectual disabilities) enrolled in three secondary school systems in Georgia andpostsecondary students enrolled at partner instititutions. STEM faculty, administratorsand disability personnel from partnering secondary and postsecondary institutions willalso participate.Although project efforts primarily will be focused in Georgia, outreach and disseminationefforts will extend nationwide. Lead agencies are UGA’s Learning Performance andSupport Laboratory, Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and EnvironmentalAccess and Georgia Perimeter’s College of Arts and Sciences.Co-principal investigators include Robert Todd, a senior research scientist at GeorgiaTech and Michael Hannafin, the Charles H. Wheatley-Georgia Research AllianceEminent Scholar in Technology-Enhanced Learning and director of the LPSL at UGA.