2009 Report of the AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS)

by S. Burgstahler, E. Moore, and L. Crawford, University of Washington

Reporting data as of January, 2009.

This report is based on the AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study (ALTS). It tracks the college and career pathways of students with disabilities who have participated in activities sponsored by projects of the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. To date, 212 students with a wide range of disabilities have agreed to participate in this ongoing study. More students will be added to the study as they enter DO-IT programs and agree to participate in this research activity. Most of the respondents have participated in only a baseline interview; 74 students have participated in one follow-up interview.

In the ALTS study participants are asked about educational and career pathways and outcomes. Additionally, they are asked to identify the DO-IT activities they participated in and rate the value of the activities. As this database grows, both in number of participants and number of interviews per participant, it is expected to reveal the long-term impact of DO-IT's program activities. That is, it will indicated which activities best benefit students and which activities are most important for achieving positive postsecondary outcomes. This report is an update of a preliminary report of S. Burgstahler and C. Chang available at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/tracking.html.

The AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study was developed through an award from the Research in Disabilities Education program of the NSF (HRD Cooperative Agreement #0227995) for the Alliance for Access to STEM for Students with Disabilities (AccessSTEM) (grant #HRD-0833504). The DO-IT Scholars program, in which many study respondents participated, has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Microsoft, Boeing Company, the State of Washington, and other sources. The Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing) is funded by NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (grant #CNS-0540615 and CNS-0837508). The ALTS continues to be maintained by AccessSTEM, AccessComputing, and other projects for which DO-IT is a sponsor.

Specific research questions of the ALTS are:

  1. (a) What are the educational achievements of participants in DO-IT interventions? (b) Do they differ from other youth with disabilities with regard to educational achievements?
  2. (a) What are the employment outcomes of participants in DO-IT interventions? (b) Do they differ from other youth with disabilities with regard to employment achievements?
  3. (a) Which interventions are regarded as most valuable? (b) Are patterns evident linking student demographics or interests with the intervention(s) used and their perceived value, or with student pathways? (c) Is there evidence of how interventions might be improved or expanded to be more beneficial or more broadly beneficial?

The ALTS tracks the progress toward degrees and careers of students with disabilities who had a goal of postsecondary education while in high school and received DO-IT-sponsored interventions (e.g., internships, mentoring, college transition activities) in high school and/or in college. Many DO-IT sponsored interventions were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The study is designed in such a way that respondent content can be updated and data can be analyzed at any time. Recognizing that at any point some respondents in the study are still enrolled in secondary school or are recent high school graduates, besides graduation and career outcome data, the "on track" status of respondents as they progress through critical junctures that lead to degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is determined.

The progress of ALTS respondents are compared with that of participants in the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) for whom postsecondary education was part of their transition plan while they were still in high school. Although ALTS participants were not randomly selected and the two groups are not identical in characteristics, both groups are composed of college-bound youth with a wide range of disabilities and interests. The DO-IT Scholars program, for example, works with students who have many different academic and career interests; AccessSTEM participants are interested in careers in STEM; AccessComputing participants are interested in careers in computing and IT fields. The ALTS Logic Model provides a visual representation of activities in which respondents were involved as well as project outputs, goals/outcomes, and long-term impacts.

The AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study was developed through an award from the Research in Disabilities Education program of the NSF (HRD Cooperative Agreement #0227995) for the Alliance for Access to STEM for Students with Disabilities (AccessSTEM). The DO-IT Scholars program, in which many study respondents participated, has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Microsoft, Boeing Company, the State of Washington, and other sources. The Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing) is funded by NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (grant #CNS-0540615 and CNS-0837508). The ALTS continues to be maintained by AccessSTEM, AccessComputing, and other projects for which DO-IT is a sponsor.

We intend to expand ALTS with new participants and with longer-term follow up to gather data that will enable us to evaluate both the short-term and the long-term impact of specific projects and activities designed to increase the college and career success of individuals with disabilities, particularly in STEM fields This study is responsive to the recommendation of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (2004) that the NSF make an effort to collect more and higher-quality data about factors that promote the success of individuals with disabilities in STEM fields.

Procedures

Recruited through their participation in DO-IT activities, respondents in this study were interviewed in person, by email, by phone, or in a combination of the three. Their records were added to an online database. Content stored in the database includes demographics, assistive technology usage, involvement in program activities, stages of progress through critical junctures leading to STEM careers, participants' reasons for discontinuing progress toward a STEM career, and career outcomes. Participants are periodically interviewed to update database content. ALTS data is analyzed by an external evaluator.

The following paragraphs provide an overview of findings from some of the data collected thus far in the ongoing AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study.

Demographics

As of December 2008, the study included a total of 212 respondents. Fifty-three percent of the respondents are male; 47% are female. Their mean age was 21.5 years (SD = 5.48) at the time of their first interview; their ages ranged from 15.5 years to 54 years. Respondents self-identified as:

  • Caucasian/White (79.5%),
  • Asian and Pacific Islander (7.8%),
  • Hispanic (5.4%),
  • African American/Black (3.4%),
  • American Indian (2.0%), and
  • Multi-ethnic (2.0%).

Figure 1 illustrates the prevalence of different types of disabilities among ALTS participants. About half of the respondents (53%) reported a mobility disability; one-fourth reported a learning disability (25%). Nearly as many reported psycho-social issues (22%). Fewer reported sensory disabilities or a disability related a chronic or acute health condition.

[Bar graph with types of disabilities participants reported in tracking survey.]

Figure 2 shows the percentage of participating students reporting one (67%), two (25%) or three or more (8%) disabling conditions.

[Pie chart with number of disabilities each participant reports in tracking survey.]

Figure 3 shows the participants’ educational status when they entered DO-IT. Three (1.4%) began participation in DO-IT activities in middle school, 165 (77.8%) in high school, 39 (18%) as college undergraduates or in their transition summer between high school and college, 3 (1.4%) as graduate students, and 2 (0.9%) when seeking employment.

[Pie chart with participants’ educational status when they entered DO-IT.]

Program Participation and Value of Interventions

Respondents participated in the following evidence-based practices.

  • Technology access. Ninety-four percent of the respondents had access to a computer and 85% had access to the Internet before they participated in program activities. The percentage with computer and Internet access increased to 100% and 97%, respectively, after program participation.
    The proportion of the respondents in the current study with access to adaptive software or hardware was quite low (27%) before DO-IT participation, but very high (61%) after participation in program activities. Thirty-nine percent reported that these adaptive technologies were provided at least in part by DO-IT. Adaptive software available to project participants includes scanning/reading, word prediction, mind mapping/outlining, speech recognition, and screen magnification software. Adaptive hardware includes alternative keyboards and mice.
  • Internships and Other Work-Based Learning. Forty-four percent of respondents completed at least one internship, and half of these reported that at least one of their internships was provided by DO-IT. Overall, respondents reported 73 internships provided by DO-IT, with the total number completed by each respondent ranging from one to seven. The total number of internships provided by DO-IT ranged from one to five. More than two-thirds of the participants had paid internships.
  • Mentoring. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported having access to mentors during program participation, up from 32% before participation. (The remaining 5% of the participants had not yet been paired with mentors because they had just joined the program.) All 157 DO-IT Scholars indicated that they participated in internetworking and mentoring.
  • College and Career Transition Workshops/Camps. Approximately one half (53%) of the respondents reported that they participated in college and career transition workshops or camps.
  • Other STEM Activities. In addition to the aforementioned experiences provided through DO-IT, one third of the respondents reported that they were involved in extracurricular STEM service groups, clubs, or other activities that were not sponsored by AccessSTEM, AccessComputing, DO-IT Scholars, or other DO-IT programs.

Figure 4a summarizes respondent perceptions regarding the value of program activities as they prepared for college and careers, in order from most to least valued as indicated by the proportion of "valuable" and "very valuable" ratings. Access to technology was reported to be the most valuable intervention, with 75% of the respondents noting that that intervention was "Very Valuable," followed by internship or other work-based learning, rated as "Very Valuable" by 48% of those who participated, and as "Valuable" by another 38%. College transition workshops or camps were rated nearly as high with 45% of the participants rating this activity "Very Valuable", and another 41% rating it as "Valuable". Mentoring was also seen very positively, with 41% indicating that it was "Very Valuable" and another 32% saying it was valuable. However about one-fourth found it "Somewhat Valuable," a diversity of responses that may lead to some insight into the qualities of a valuable mentorship experience in future interviews. Similarly, additional feedback about career transition workshops and camps may yield ideas for improvements that will increase the value of those activities to more participants.

[Bar graph showing the perceived value of DO-IT interventions as rated by DO-IT respondents.]

The nine DO-IT staff members who work the most on multiple activities with DO-IT participants were also asked to rate the value of these program activities. Table 1 and Figure 4b show the results, with activities listed in the same order as above.

Table 1. Perceived Value of DO-IT Interventions as Rated by DO-IT Staff
Program Activities Not Valuable Somewhat Valuable Valuable Very Valuable
Note: Participants and staff rated all interventions highly; even the lowest rated item, "Mentoring" was rated "Valuable" or "Very Valuable" by 72.8% and 100% of the participants and staff, respectively. All participants and staff gave "Access to computer technology" "Valuable" or "Very Valuable" ratings.
Access to computer technology 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 33.3% (3) 66.7% (6)
Internship, other work-based learning 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 22.2% (2) 77.8% (7)
Mentoring 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 11.1% (1) 88.9% (8)
College transition workshops/camps 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 0.0% (0) 100.0% (9)
Career transition workshops/camps 0.0% (0) 11.1% (1) 33.3% (3) 55.6% (5)

[Bar graph showing the perceived value of DO-IT interventions as rated by DO-IT staff.]

High School Completion

At the time of their first interview, 173 of the ALTS respondents for whom data was available graduated from high school and the remainder was still in high school - an impressive 100% high school completion rate. In comparison, the rate of high school completion for youth with disabilities was 54% for 1987 and 70% for 2003 in the NLTS and the NLTS2, respectively. A nation-wide survey of individuals with disabilities (NOD, 2004) reported that students with disabilities drop out of high school at a rate (21%) that is double than that of the general population (10%). The rate of high school completion in the general population fluctuated between 86.4 percent in 1992 and 87.6 percent in 2005 (NCES, NCES2). Among the ALTS respondents who completed high school, only one student mentioned completing high school by passing a General Educational Development (GED) exam as compared to the national rate of 5.1% in 2000 and 7.8% in 1998 and 1999 (NCES, 2007a,b). This student entered the DO-IT program as an undergraduate.

Postsecondary Education Participation and Graduation

The following data was reported by the 173 high school graduates interviewed:

  • 92% (159) enrolled in college, with slightly more first attending four-year colleges than two-year colleges.
  • 37% (59) individuals have graduated from 70 postsecondary programs (11 individuals each completed two programs, perhaps a two-year and a four-year program; perhaps a four-year and a graduate program).
  • 58% (92) were still enrolled or enrolled in another college or graduate program.
  • A total of 41%/60%/58% of ALTS respondents at two-year/four-year/graduate schools majored or minored in STEM.
  • 50 have earned 60 postsecondary certificates/degrees; 33 (55%) of these degrees were in STEM fields.

Table 2 provides more detailed information of participant passage through the "critical junctures" in the postsecondary educational process. Figure 5 summarizes this information. High school completers are defined as 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school that have received a high school diploma or equivalency credential.

Table 2. Moving Through Critical Junctures in Education
Postsecondary Education Status Number of Participants
Note: These 59 participants completed 70 programs – 11 individuals each completed two programs.
Transitioned to College 159  
Attending/Attended 2-Year College 75 47.2%of students who transitioned
Major/Majored in STEM at 2-Year College 31 41% of students at 2 year colleges
Attending/Attended 4-Year College 113 71.1% of students who transitioned
Major/Majored in STEM at 4-Year College 68 60.2% of students at 4 year colleges
Attending/Attended Graduate School 19 11.9% of students who transitioned
Major/Majored in STEM at Graduate School 11 57.9% of graduate students
Graduate or Completed 59 (70 graduations - see note) 37% of students who transitioned
Currently Enrolled in 2-Year College 23 14.5% of students who transitioned
Currently Enrolled in 4-Year College 58 36.5% of students who transitioned
Currently Enrolled in Graduate School 11 6.9% of students who transitioned

[Bar graph showing the educational status at time of most recent survey.]

Comparisons between ALTS respondents and other datasets (NSF and the National Longitudinal Transition Study) show:

  • ALTS participants attend college at a higher rate: 159 (92%) of ALTS's 173 high school graduates attended college; 154 (97%) of these, within two years from high school graduation. By comparison, 77% of the NLTS participants had postsecondary goals in high school, and fewer than one third of these (31%) took a postsecondary course within two years after high school.
  • ALTS participants are about as likely to attend a technical/two-year college program: About half of both NLTS and ALTS participants who attended postsecondary school did so at a technical/two-year college.

Post-School Employment

Forty-eight ALTS respondents were recorded as currently "employed" in post-school positions. This category was defined using stringent criteria (e.g., jobs participants held on campus, previous but not current jobs were not counted). Forty-six percent of these respondents were employed in STEM-oriented work and another ten percent work or worked in fields with significant technology demands. Below is data available regarding employed participants in the ALTS study.

  • Excluding participants who had not yet graduated from high school, the 48 employed participants participated in about as many internships (average=0.81) as the 83 who were not employed but in school (average=0.86) and the 45 who are not employed and not in school (average=0.78).
  • Those employed were significantly more likely to have been involved in extracurricular STEM organizations and activities (52%) than those still in school and not employed (37%) or those not in school and not employed (16%), χ2 (2, 170) = 12.6, p < .01.
  • Employed participants were also more likely to have been enrolled in postsecondary STEM studies (65%);χ2 (1, 159) = 3.9, p <.05.
  • Figure 6 reveals that employed respondents are older (F(1,174)=4.0; p<.05, had completed significantly more years of college, F (1,150) = 4.7, p < .05, and had earned higher levels of college degrees than others, χ2 (3, 157) = 37.6, p < .001.

[A graph showing participant age and years of educated completed by employment status.]

Summary and Discussion of ALTS Results To Date

Participation

Analysis of data collected in the AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Transition Study reveals that a large majority of respondents had access to computers and the Internet before participation in program activities. However, few had access to adaptive software or hardware before participation (27%), but most did after participation in program activities (61%).

Respondents made significant gains regarding access to mentors as a result of program participation (from 32% to 95%).

Respondents rated the evidence-based practices employed by DO-IT between "Valuable" and "Very Valuable" to them in their pursuit of postsecondary studies and careers. Using a scale from 1 "Not Valuable" to 4 "Very Valuable," participants gave the following average ratings:

  • access to computer technology (3.7),
  • work-based learning (3.3),
  • college transition workshops/camps (3.3),
  • career transition workshops/camps (3.2).
  • mentoring (3.1), and

Staff rated all of these activities "Valuable" or "Very Valuable".

Achievements

While 39 ALTS respondents are still enrolled in middle school or high school, the other 173 have already graduated so that all ALTS participants have either graduated from high school or are still attending. All but one graduate received a high school diploma, and the other earned a GED. This represents a much higher graduation rate than other students with and without disabilities nationwide. The high rate of high school diploma recipients for ALTS respondents suggests promising interventions for students with disabilities, as well as a promising future for these individuals, as research indicates that students who earn high school diplomas are more than twice as likely as GED recipients to enroll in college; they also earn higher incomes as adults (Grubb, 1999).

As far as type of postsecondary institution attended, ALTS and NLTS participants who attended college were similar. About half of each group began their studies at a technical/two-year college.

A large majority (92%) of ALTS high school graduates attended a two- or four-year college, 97% within two years from high school graduation. This is a substantially higher rate of postsecondary participation compared to the transition rate of NLTS participants from high school into college. Although 77% of NLTS participants had postsecondary education as a goal in high school; only 31% actually took a postsecondary course within two years after high school. This finding is consistent with previous research which formed the basis of DO-IT’s various interventions. This study provides supporting evidence that the ongoing program supports developed from previous research made a difference in the ability of students with disabilities to successfully transition to and succeed in college and careers.

At the time when the current data was collected, 41%, 60%, and 58% of ALTS respondents at two-year, four-year, and graduate schools, respectively, majored or minored in STEM. Fifty-nine students have completed 70 postsecondary programs. Of the 60 degrees/certificates reported by ALTS participants, 33 (55%) were earned in a STEM field. A national postsecondary student aid study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, Berkner et al., 2005) found that undergraduate students with disabilities choose natural sciences and engineering at the same rate as students without disabilities (18%), and that graduate students with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to major in natural sciences and engineering (9% vs. 13%). ALTS participants, all students with disabilities, are choosing natural sciences and engineering at a higher rate than either of these groups in the NCES study. At the level of two-year or technical colleges, 36% of the respondents reported a major or minor in natural sciences or engineering (this excludes math and health science majors); at the level of four-year colleges and universities, 45% reported a major or minor in natural sciences or engineering. This figure compares to the 18% reported in the NCES study above. At the graduate level, one-third (33%) of the ALTS students reported a natural science or engineering major, compared with 9% of the students with disabilities overall and even compared with 13% of students without disabilities. These results suggest that the DO-IT program is effective in promoting interest in natural science and engineering for students with disabilities, and as a result, is helping to fill the gap in natural science and engineering studies between youth with and without disabilities. Another DO-IT study suggests that DO-IT mentors may be the single most effective intervention for stimulating an interest in STEM (Burgstahler & Cronheim; Burgstahler & Doyle).

Another important impact of DO-IT programs is the increase in the sheer number of college graduates with disabilities as a result of program support, in STEM as well as in other fields of study. The total number of STEM degrees is likely larger than what it would be otherwise both because of the ability of DO-IT interventions to successfully encourage the exploration of STEM fields, but also because of the overall increase in success of students with disabilities who participate in DO-IT programs, and the resultant increased size of the pool of college graduates with disabilities. Findings should be interpreted in light of the fact that DO-IT recruits students with disabilities into its activities who are NOT necessarily initially interested in STEM. As noted in results of other studies reviewed in the "Summary of Earlier Research Results Regarding DO-IT Interventions" section of this report, research suggests that DO-IT interventions increase participants' overall perception of career options, particularly for girls, and the interest in STEM of those not initially interested in STEM.

Employed participants were older, had more years of education, and had attained higher educational degrees than non-employed participants, 65% of whom were still in school. About half (46%) of the employed students were working in STEM fields. Another 10% had been in STEM fields or, at the time of the survey, were working in non-technical positions in STEM fields, or in technical positions in non-STEM fields. Overall, compared with students who are not currently employed, those who are employed may have entered DO-IT with fewer resources and accommodations. Employed students reported more access to mentors, more hardware/software training from DO-IT, a greater rate of Internet access through DO-IT, and more involvement in activities, such as being a DO-IT Scholar, having access to DO-IT mentors, involvement in extracurricular STEM activities, assisting with conferences or serving as a DO-IT workshop or lab assistant, or as a panelist or presenter.

Many participants who pursued careers that are technically non-STEM (e.g., accounting, law, education, journalism) benefited from the STEM interventions and encouragement they gained through DO-IT activities and continue to support NSF goals. For example, participants encouraged to take mathematics courses through DO-IT activities became prepared to pursue math-intensive careers such as accounting. Participants who became teachers are now in positions to encourage other young people with disabilities to consider STEM careers. And, those who have become attorneys and other professionals serve as role models to young people with disabilities, helping them see career options that they thought were unavailable to them. Based on their positive responses to ALTS questions about the value of DO-IT interventions, it is likely that AccessSTEM activities supported NSF's goal to expand the STEM literacy of all citizens.

Critical Junctures Analysis

Recognizing that at any point in time some respondents in the ALTS' will be still enrolled in secondary or postsecondary studies, the researchers are developing measures and analyses for respondents considered "on track" with respect to their progress through critical junctures that lead to degrees and careers.

Two-year college: ALTS participants who attended a two-year college and provided years of attendance data have attended classes over an average period of three years (ranging from finishing the same year as enrolling to still enrolled seven years after initially enrolling). Participants who graduated from a two-year college attended for significantly more years than those who have not yet graduated (4.3 years vs. 2.2: F(1,42)=11.8; p<.01). ALTS respondents who are two-year college graduates took from less than one year to seven years to complete their programs, while those who are still enrolled in their two-year college programs have been enrolled from less than one year to six years.

Four-year college: ALTS participants who attended a four-year college and provided years of attendance data have attended college over an average period of five years, with graduates having attended for slightly but not significantly longer (5.3 years vs. 4.8 years). The range of years between enrollment and graduation (or year of survey if not yet graduated) ranges widely, from less than one year to more than 30. Restricting analysis to individuals who entered the DO-IT program prior to enrolling in college reveals that those who have graduated from a four-year institution have been enrolled for significantly longer than those who have not yet graduated (5.1 years vs. 2.6 years; F(1,55)=23.8; p<.001). Graduates of four-year institutions attended from two years to ten, while those who are still attending have been enrolled from less than one year to seven years.

ALTS participants who entered the DO-IT program after having enrolled in college were enrolled in a four-year program for significantly longer than participants who entered DO-IT before enrolling in college (7.3 years vs. 3.8 years; F(1,85)=7.6; p<.01). No difference was found between these groups in years of enrollment at a two-year college.

Current and Future AccessSTEM/AccessComputing/DO-IT Longitudinal Tracking Study Efforts

[Map of the United States with States Covered by the Regional Alliances Highlighted.]

AccessSTEM staff members have worked with three other Alliances for Students with Disabilities in STEM—RASEM2, MIDWEST, and EAST—in order to collect common data from participants in each program. Ultimately, such data could be analyzed together and provide a model for NSF as it explores types of outcome data that should be collected for projects that serve to increase the participation of people with disabilities in STEM careers. Staff are also working to integrate new findings with those of earlier studies of promising interventions. Studies related to DO-IT interventions are summarized in the next section.

Summary of Earlier Research Results Regarding DO-IT Interventions

The DO-IT Scholars program, originally funded in 1992 by the National Science Foundation and now funded by the State of Washington, supports transitions from high school to college to careers for students with disabilities. DO-IT Scholars are college-bound high school students who face significant challenges in pursuing postsecondary studies and careers as a result of their disabilities. They are not necessarily initially interested in STEM fields, but program activities include those designed to increase interest in and knowledge about STEM. By providing on-campus summer study, year-round peer and mentor support, and work-based learning experiences, DO-IT helps these students develop self-determination, social, academic, technology, and career/employment skills to successfully transition to adult lives. A rich body of evaluation and research data has been collected on this program. It includes reports from Scholars, parents, and mentors and analyzes the value of program interventions, perceived outcomes, and participant differences with respect to gender, disability, and STEM interest. Some of the results are summarized in the following paragraphs.

Parents of DO-IT Scholars reported that DO-IT increased their children's interest in college; awareness of career options; self-esteem; and self-advocacy, social, academic, and career/employment skills (Burgstahler, 2002).

DO-IT Scholars reported that DO-IT participation helped them prepare for college and employment; develop Internet, self-advocacy, computer, social, and independent living skills; increase awareness of career options; and increase self-esteem and perseverance (Burgstahler, 2003; Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler, 2004).

  • They reported the greatest effects of the Summer Study to be the development of social skills, followed by academic and career skills; and the greatest effects of the year-round computer and Internet activities to be the development of career skills, followed by academic and social skills (Burgstahler, 2003; Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler).
  • DO-IT Scholars considered themselves significantly improved in academic skills, social skills, levels of preparation for college and employment, levels of awareness of career options, and personal characteristics such as perseverance and self-esteem during the course of their participation in the DO-IT Scholars program, as demonstrated by their ratings at the following three time points—before their involvement in DO-IT, immediately following their first DO-IT Summer Study, and at the time they were surveyed (Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler).
  • DO-IT Scholars reported positive characteristics of email communication for peer and mentor support. Positive aspects of email included being able to stay close to friends and family; to get answers to specific questions; to meet people from around the world; to communicate quickly, easily, and inexpensively with many people at one time; and to communicate independently without disclosing their disabilities (Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001; Burgstahler & Doyle, 2005). They predicted that access to the Internet would contribute to their success in college and careers, and reported that peer and mentor relationships provided psychosocial, academic, and career support, and furthered their academic and career interests (Burgstahler, 2003; Burgstahler & Cronheim; Burgstahler & Doyle, 2005; Kim-Rupnow & Burgstahler). In particular, most reported that DO-IT mentors stimulated interests in STEM (Burgstahler & Cronheim; Burgstahler & Doyle).
  • Those who participated in work-based learning opportunities reported increased motivation to work toward a career; knowledge about careers and the workplace; job-related skills; ability to work with supervisors and coworkers; and skills in self-advocating for accommodations (Burgstahler, 2001; Burgstahler, Bellman, & Lopez, 2004).

DO-IT Mentors reported topics discussed with Scholars include STEM, college issues, disability-related issues, careers, computers, assistive technology, and the Internet (Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001).

Comparison of STEM and non-STEM-Oriented Participants

A recent study (Burgstahler & Chang, in press) compared the perceived benefits of program participation of participants with interests/strengths and/or career goals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM group) and those without (non-STEM group) Highlights of the results are summarized below, organized by research question.

How does the STEM group compare with non-STEM group with respect to gender, disability type, major areas of postsecondary study, and primary motivations for going to college and gaining employment?

  • Gender: Significantly more male respondents identified themselves as having STEM interests, strengths, and/or career goals than did female respondents.
  • Disability type: Although respondents with mobility impairments were as likely as respondents with other types of disabilities to report interests/strengths in STEM fields, fewer reported a career goal in STEM fields.
  • Postsecondary studies: Participants in the STEM group were more likely to study in STEM-related areas than those in the non-STEM group. Interestingly, there was a higher percentage (although not statistically significant) of students in the non-STEM group who majored in STEM fields (26%) as compared to the percentage of those in the STEM group who majored in non-STEM fields (13%).
  • Primary motivation to attend college: Academic interest and love of learning/challenges was cited by more members of the STEM group, while job/career preparation was identified as a primary motivator for more of those in the non-STEM group.
  • Primary motivation to seek employment: Financial security was selected by significantly more of the STEM group and pursuit of independent living was selected by significantly more of the non-STEM group. Potential mediators may be gender and disability type.

How does the STEM group compare with the non-STEM group in perceived growth in skills over the course of DO-IT participation?

  • Social skills: More non-STEM group participants reported improvement in social skills than did STEM group members. Although no significant group difference was detected in the early phases of DO-IT participation, by Phase III, the non-STEM group reported higher level of social skills than the STEM group.
  • Self-advocacy skills: Non-STEM group participants consistently reported higher levels of self-advocacy skills than did STEM group members over the three phases, but both groups experienced significant improvements at a similar rate between phases.

How does the STEM group compare with the non-STEM group in perceived value and impact of DO-IT activities and participation?

  • Summer Study: Both groups placed the same high value on DO-IT Summer Study activities.
  • Year-round computer and Internet activities: Access to adaptive technology and to information and resources on the Internet received significantly higher ratings from the STEM group.
  • Greatest overall impact: The groups valued DO-IT in individual psychosocial development and readiness for college and career pursuits at the same high levels.

Comparisons by Gender

A recent study (Burgstahler & Chang, 2007) compared the perceived benefits of program participation by gender of participants. Highlights of the results are summarized below, organized by research question.

How do the male and female participants compare on STEM strength/career goals, disability type, major areas of postsecondary study, and primary motivations for going to college and gaining employment?

  • STEM strength and future career goals: Significantly more males than females identified themselves as having STEM interests, strengths, and/or career goals.
  • Disability type: No gender difference in disability type was found despite a slightly higher percentage of mobility impairments among the female participants.
  • Primary motivations to attend college: Male and female participants did not differ in their reported motivations for going to college. The most common reason was career preparation, followed by academic interest/love of learning and commitment to family and friends.
  • Primary motivations to seek employment: The most common reasons were independent living and financial security including incentive plans employment would offer, however, having financial security was significantly more important to male participants (60%) and achieving independent living was significantly more important to female participants (57%).

How do the male and female participants compare on perceived changes in themselves during the course of DO-IT participation?

 

  • Perceived career options: Career options perceived by both genders increased significantly between phases, however female participant perceptions of career options changed more, indicating greater changes in female participants during DO-IT participation.

How do the male and female participants compare on perceived value and impact of DO-IT activities and participation?

  • Summer Study: Both male and female participants highly valued DO-IT activities offered at Summer Study and no gender differences were detected.
  • Year-round computer and Internet activities: Both groups highly valued computer and Internet activities, but no gender differences were detected.
  • Greatest overall impact: Approximately similar, high percentages of male and female participants agreed that the greatest influence of DO-IT was in either individual psychosocial development or readiness for college and career pursuits.

In a follow-up (Burgstahler & Doyle, 2005) to the e-mentoring study (Burgstahler & Cronheim, 2001), researchers explored communication differences between males and females. True to gender stereotypes, males were more preoccupied with the Internet and other technology and females with personal issues. This result suggests that technology is still a male bastion and that finding ways to encourage females to develop skills and positive self-concepts in the area of information technology (IT) is of critical importance if we are to increase their participation in IT fields.

STEM Majors and Degrees at UW

It is not possible to draw definitive and generalizable conclusions about the effect of DO-IT activities on the number of students with disabilities majoring in and graduating in STEM fields at the University of Washington (UW) and other institutions. Research challenges include the following:

  • the lack of a control group;
  • UW records do not identify all students with disabilities. Only those students who request accommodations through Disability Resources for Students (DRS) are flagged in UW records as having a disability. These are estimated to be no more than one-third of the total number of students with disabilities at the UW. Thus two-thirds of the UW’s students with disabilities will appear in the "without disabilities" group. From the perspective of a between groups analysis, the effect is to blur the differences between groups such that approximately two-thirds of any differential impact on students with disabilities will appear in the group of students without disabilities;
  • Comparisons of percent changes can be misleading and must be made cautiously when comparing groups of dramatically different sizes. Small groups can show dramatic percentage changes more easily than large groups;
  • Finally, correlations between program participation and outcomes do not necessarily imply causation.

Despite these limitations, it is still of some interest to compare available data about STEM degrees and majors of UW students with documented disabilities and students who have not disclosed disabilities. However, findings must be interpreted cautiously.

It is important to keep in mind that most interventions undertaken by DO-IT since 1992 do not focus on the UW; instead, they reach out to students and institutions state-wide, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Some interventions encourage the participation of students with disabilities in STEM degrees (e.g., those funded by the National Science Foundation such as AccessSTEM,) but others are more generally focused on increasing the success of students with disabilities in college and careers; further, some STEM-related interventions reach out to students already interested in STEM fields, but most do not. It should also be noted that DO-IT interventions promote self-determination skills for students with disabilities and the application of universal design for instruction and student services. Together, these efforts can lead to fewer students reporting disabilities to DRS, as students make use of technology (e.g., Braille translation and speech output systems for students who are blind) and other interventions to gain access to curriculum and as faculty and staff make their resources (e.g., websites) more accessible to students who have disabilities. Table 3 below should be interpreted with these limitations in mind. It reports STEM degree and major information for UW students who disclose and for students who do not disclose disabilities.

Year With Disclosed Disabilities Without Disclosed Disabilities
STEM Degrees STEM Majors STEM Degrees STEM Majors
Bachelors Graduate Undergrad Graduate Bachelors Graduate Undergrad Graduate
1991 22 2 105 14 2,736 916 9,129 3,774
2002 52 5 129 26 3,648 1,190 11,320 4,361
2007 59 11 245 49 3,908 1,258 13,143 4,667

1991 (Pre-DO-IT) to 2007

 

  • Degrees: There was a 168% increase in undergraduate and a 450% increase in graduate degrees in STEM earned by students who reported disabilities; there was only a 43% increase in undergraduate and 37% increase in graduate degrees in STEM for others.
  • Majors: STEM majors increased 133% for undergraduate and 250% for graduate students with disabilities, but only 44% and 24%, respectively, for others.

2002 (Pre-AccessSTEM) to 2007

  • Degrees: There was a 14% increase in undergraduate and 120% increase in graduate degrees in STEM for students with disabilities; there was only a 7% increase in undergraduate and 6% increase in graduate degrees in STEM for others.
  • Majors: STEM majors increased 89% for undergraduate and 82% for graduate students with disabilities, but only 16% and 7%, respectively, for others.

Figure 18 shows that the number of graduate and undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields, at the UW, has increased between 1991 and 2007, regardless of disability status. However, the increase for students with disabilities is much steeper than for students without disabilities.

[Bar graph that shows the change in number of STEM graduate and undergraduate MAJORS for students with and without documented disabilities at the UW.]

Although the general pattern of change when tracking graduate and undergraduate degrees in STEM fields is similar to the pattern of change in STEM majors (an increase can be seen in all groups however, the increase in number of degrees awarded to students with disabilities is much steeper than in the other group), a difference in the pattern can be seen for the two outcomes. Figure 19 shows that the number of undergraduate STEM degrees awarded to students with disabilities at the UW increased most steeply during the 1990s (perhaps as a result of ADA legislation) and then leveled off, while the number of undergraduate STEM majors with disabilities increased modestly during the 1990s, and then nearly doubled between 2002 and 2007.

[Bar graph that shows the change in number of STEM graduate and undergraduate DEGREES for students with and without documented disabilities at the UW.]

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Acknowledgments

The first ALTS summary was prepared by S. Burgstahler and C. Chang for the 2007 PacRim Conference on Disabilities, with some content taken directly from referenced articles. The DO-IT Scholars program has been funded by the National Science Foundation (grant #9255803, #9550003, and #9800324) and the State of Washington. This material and ongoing maintenance of ALTS is supported by the National Science Foundation (award #HRD-0227995 and HRD-0833504 in RDE and #CNS-0540615 and CNS-0837508 in CISE). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.