STEM Work Experiences Build Careers!

Scott Bellman, DO-IT staff

Research suggests that students with disabilities who engage in internships and multiple work-based learning experiences, such as job shadows, fare better in their career path compared to those who do not make time for such experiences. This is especially true for students with disabilities who wish to pursue challenging careers, such as those in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Recent issues of DO-IT News have highlighted several DO-IT participants' STEM internships, such as Carson at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Marissa at Amazon.com, and Dennis' database work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

It has been another blockbuster year for STEM internships, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation for the projects AccessSTEM (cooperative agreement #HRD-0227995) and AccessComputing (grant #CNS-0540615). Students completed more than forty STEM internships that included work in the following areas: preparation of museum exhibits, database design and maintenance, web development, Internet research and analysis, volcano data collection, computer usability and accessibility work, learning about science education, marine science, and biochemistry. Places of employment included the University of Washington, the University of Alaska, Sitka Alaska College, Bellevue Community College, Cornell University, Microsoft, Washington Mutual, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Big Bend Community College, Skagit Valley Community College, Pacific Northwest Labs, the Fairbanks Pain Clinic, NOAA, and NASA.

Many DO-IT students who have completed work-based learning experiences in the past have filled out surveys to report what they gained from their experience. They consistently report gains in their motivation to work toward a career, knowledge of careers and the workplace, job-related skills, ability to work with supervisors and coworkers, and knowledge of successful accommodation strategies. Furthermore, work-based learning experiences helped them:

  • clarify academic and career interests
  • pay for education and gain academic credit
  • gain exposure to specialized facilities not available on campus
  • develop job-search skills, resumes, and cover letters
  • develop contacts for employment after graduation
  • practice disclosing disability and requesting accommodations

For more information about the value of work-based learning, read the DO-IT publication It's Your Career: Work-Based Learning Opportunities for College Students with Disabilities at www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Careers/worklearn.html.