UMKC to Serve as Backbone for $10M National STEM Education Initiative for Students with Disabilities

The university will work hand-in-hand will Auburn University, as well as other colleges across the country, to research ways to increase STEM degree completion among students with disabilities.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City will backbone a $10 million research effort from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education among students with disabilities.

Auburn University will lead the five-year project while UMKC will "backbone," or guide vision, strategy, support aligned activities, establish shared measurement practices and support the implementation of research, according to the NSF.

As the backbone, UMKC will host the portal and website for the project, as well as lead data collection.

Alexis Petri, Ed.D., senior director of faculty support at UMKC, said she has already begun working with Overtoun Jenda, Ph.D., whose office at Auburn will be chairing the initiative, to delineate what aspects of the project will be led by UMKC and which by Auburn. 

The project's funding will be used to conduct research related to enhancing workforce development opportunities for people with disabilities.

Students involved in the research will receive benefits including peer and faculty mentoring, research opportunities and financial support to track which efforts work best to increase the number of students with disabilities entering college and completing a degree in a STEM-related field.

Overall, the research project will target three objectives, two focused on students and the other on institutions:

  1. Increase the number of students with disabilities completing degrees in STEM.
  2. Facilitate the transition of students with disabilities from degree completion into the STEM workforce.
  3. Enhance communication among institutions of higher education, industry, government and local communities.

The project will encompass 27 universities, with five "hub-leading institutions." Those institutions include UMKC (Midwest Hub), Northern Arizona University (Mountain Hub), Ohio State University (Northeastern Hub), the University of Hawaii-Manoa (Islands Hub) and the University of Washington (West Coast Hub). 

The Midwest Hub will initially consist of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Little Priest Tribal College and Wichita State. At least five other colleges and universities are slated to be added within the next year, Petri said.

In addition to being the backbone of the organization, UMKC will also undertake a research project with the help of $2.4 million of the grant, which will be distributed over the course of the next five years.

UMKC's research will look at student success across critical junctures such as access, entry, progress, completion and transition. 

"The idea is to help students have momentum moving across critical junctures like from graduation to employment. Those are times when students are likely to face challenges or barriers to their goals," Petri said. "Knowledge gleaned from the study will be available to (other research institutions) for mid-course adjustments and ultimately to discover how well-known interventions like mentoring, applied in combination with other success programs, lead to innovations that improve degree completion for students with disabilities STEM majors."

Research chairs at UMKC will include Jacob Marszalek, Ph.D., professor and Director of Applied Cognitive Brain and Brain Science, Yugyung Lee, Ph.D., professor of computer science, Fengpeng Sun, Ph.D., professor and climate scientist, and Ye Wang, Ph.D., communications professor.

The grant began on Aug. 1 and will last until July 31, 2026. Research is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2022.

The award is part of the NSF INCLUDES initiative which invests in programs that address diversity, inclusion and participation challenges in STEM at a national scale. The initiative is one of five INCLUDES awards given by the NSF this year.

Published: Aug 6, 2021
Posted In: Research

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