The Center for Emergent Materials: A Promising Practice in Training Faculty to Mentor Undergraduates with Disabilities in Research
The Center for Emergent Materials at The Ohio State University works to recruit students with disabilities for their Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program through EntryPoint! and the Ohio STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Ability Alliance (OSAA). In internships, students engage in experimental and theoretical research in physics and materials science. Part of their training is working with sophisticated lab equipment. For students with visual impairments or physical disabilities, state vocational services or disability services provides support.
In order to ensure these experiences are successful, project staff provide training for faculty and mentors, ask faculty to commit to providing a supportive atmosphere for students, and seek out supportive graduate students to serve as mentors. Training for faculty members includes information about common issues, misconceptions, and resources. Follow up meetings with faculty are held after students have been in their labs for 2-4 weeks. Project staff continue to provide support for both the faculty and the student in the lab, and, when necessary, include the office of disability services in conversations about accommodations.
Students with disabilities need to communicate their needs and utilize resources, including their colleagues and disability services, to ensure they get the support and accommodations they need. Including students with disabilities in these research experiences brings more students into the engineering field and increases the diversity in ideas, perspectives, and solutions within these fields. The students with disabilities who are interested in these research positions are equally qualified to any other student to complete the tasks and research required.
The Center for Emergent Materials REU is a promising practice in training faculty to mentor undergraduates with disabilities in research. When faculty members are supportive and students are provided with the technology and workspace they need, students with disabilities can succeed in STEM fields.