What are strategies for recruiting students with disabilities to STEM fields?

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The Midwest Alliance was funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the number of individuals with disabilities successfully pursuing academic studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Alliance staff recruited students with disabilities into STEM fields in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Through their efforts, they identified several effective methods for recruiting students. They include:

  • Developing relationships with secondary schools; key stakeholders that can be found in parent groups and conferences hosted by professional organizations; and STEM student activity groups.
  • Using communication mediums that students already use such as email, a website, and social networking tools.
  • Designing recruitment materials to suggest students are already capable and have talent to participate in STEM and distributing them widely.
  • Continuing engagement with students by creating an online community that answers questions, provides career guidance, supports opportunities for exploration, and offers financial advice or support.

The lack of published program information and research on recruitment of students with disabilities in STEM fields makes it difficult to identify best practices, the existing literature suggests that there is a need for systemic and institutional support for recruitment and retention of students with disabilities in STEM fields in order to create a positive climate for diversity. The literature also suggests that high school teachers, special education teachers, guidance counselors, and postsecondary faculty can influence whether students with disabilities see STEM fields as career options.

This article was based on information reported in Martin, J.K., Stumbo, N.J., Martin, L.G., Collins, K.D., Hedrick, B.N., Nordstrom, H., and Peterson, M. (2011). Recruitment of students with disabilities: Exploration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(4), 285-299 and developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and the Midwestern Alliance in STEM (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0533197).

Last update or review: January 25, 2013