Sheryl Burgstahler directs DO-IT, one of the most innovative transition programs in the country. DO-IT is located at the University of Washington (UW) where she is an Affiliate Associate Professor in Education and Co-Director of the National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education. DO-IT was started in the mid-1990s as an experimental program funded by the National Sciences Foundation. Its purpose was to develop and demonstrate how a program using technology could help young people with disabilities achieve success in post-secondary education and careers. A decade later, DO-IT continues to be a national leader in innovative approaches to helping youth with disabilities build successful careers.
Leadership training pervades the DO-IT program. Like other skills, "leadership is something that one is trained in," comments Burgstahler. "We give participants opportunities to develop and apply leadership skills. We train the mentors and train the students in how to use the mentors."
The cornerstone of DO-IT's program is its summer session at UW. The program applies proven practices-- mentoring, on-the-job visits, internship and role-modeling opportunities-- but it also provides the students with an opportunity to try out college life, to meet and interact with faculty members, live in a dorm, and experience making the kinds of choices and having the responsibilities that come with being a college student. The youth typically come to the program for several summers, each year progressing to a greater level of responsibility until they are the mentors and role models for the new students. "The power of the DO-IT program is in the comprehensive nature of what we do" Sheryl explains, "We provide a tremendous follow through, once kids become involved, we keep them for life."
There are many ways the DO-IT program is innovative, but one area with a high potential for replicability is its Electronic Community. The Electronic Community is composed of a collection of private on-line discussion lists that connect the students, faculty, alumni and mentors throughout the year. "This network works," explains Sheryl, "because we put so much energy into making it effective." She further states, "The students learn how to use a network, even what kinds of questions they can ask, during the summer. During the school year, a staff person maintains the network and contacts the students regularly to urge them to get engaged and ask questions. This provides them with interesting information such as a new NASA website, or assistive equipment developments. They are teenagers, so they need to learn how to use a network effectively." Sheryl explains that in the summer "we brainstorm with the students the kinds of questions they could ask and then practice doing it on line, then during the year these are the questions we remind them to send to one another to get the communication going." She adds, "The network has exceeded our expectations, it is heavily used and it keeps everyone connected, interacting with one another and learning." There is even a special networked group for youth who use personal care assistants so that they can share their concerns and experiences in learning how to manage their assistants when they are away from home at college or work.
Well over 90% of the D0-IT students go on to post-secondary education. The schools they pick are a real mix of community colleges, 4-year colleges and places like UW. Some go on to graduate school, but a great many go on to jobs, especially in high technology fields.
DO-IT, Seattle, Washington http://www.washington.edu/doit/