DO-IT Summer Science Program at University of Washington

In a science lab at the University of Washington-Seattle, 16 by pass and valve replacement heart operations are underway. One young surgeon is probing for a clogged artery, while another is making a small incision in her patient's right ventricle, and a third is gently persuading a new artificial heart valve into place. While these are extremely delicate operations with serious implications for the patient, the tension doesn't seem to affect this team of specialists because the lives of the sheep in whom these hearts originated long ago expired, and these surgeons are high school students at summer camp.

This lab full of future PhDs, MDs, engineers, and mathematicians is part of a new program at the University of Washington designed to increase the involvement of high school students with disabilities in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. Called Disability, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, the program hopes to stimulate and inspire bright young scientists with disabilities from Washington and Oregon.

In the 1993 two-week summer session at the University of Washington (U of W) - Seattle, participants studied engineering, mathematics, and science through lectures, labs, and the use of additional electronic applications. In addition to operating on sheep hearts, this summer's group attended a lecture by an astronaut on space travel; utilized computer technology to experiment with the various forces affecting the global climate; conducted a lab on techniques in forensic analysis; explored the possibilities presented by virtual reality at the U of W's Human Interface Technology Laboratory; studied the destructive effects of earthquakes on developed regions; and considered the effects of stress on the design and construction of bridges and buildings. The students also found time in their busy two weeks to make friends, see movies, and attend a Mariners game.

Students with various disabilities were represented in the 1993 session. Some had visual, hearing, mobility, or speech impairments, while others had learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders. Program Director Sheryl Burgstahler says, "Students learned how to work in teams, how to build on their strengths, and how to compensate for their weaknesses."

When the summer session ended another important element of the program began. Participants were supplied for a year (or as long as they are active DO-IT participants) with any needed adaptive technology (e.g., computers, modems, a connection to the Internet network, sip and puff, talking screen readers, etc.) so that they can engage from their homes in frequent electronic communication with one another and their mentors.

The mentors are practicing professionals, professors, and college students, many of whom have disabilities themselves. Using Internet during the year, students can converse electronically with their mentors, ask them questions, and seek their guidance and support. Among the approximately 30 mentors are a research engineer from Washington, a software engineer from Washington, a software engineer from California, a biologist from Seattle, and a computer scientist from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Perhaps the most celebrated of all the mentors is Dr. Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist and Cambridge University professor.

Burgstahler believes that DO-IT will "increase the number of individuals with disabilities who successfully pursue academic studies and careers in sciences, engineering, and mathematics." Although many of those involved in DO-IT projects may never meet face to face, they are sharing knowledge, ideas, and the rewards of achieving the goals of a diverse, international consortium.

Funded in large part by the University of Washington, NEC, and U.S. West Communications, the summer 1994 program will accept applications from high school sophomores and juniors from the six-state Pacific Northwest region. DO-IT pays for all meals, housing, materials, and recreation activities. Fees also cover the cost of housing and food for any personal service assistants that are needed.

For additional information about DO-IT contact Sheryl Burgstahler, DO-IT Project, University of Washington, JE-25, Seattle WA