Multisensory Engineering Experiences: A Promising Practice for Preparing Students for College

Date Updated

The 2016 Engineering Experience for High School Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness at North Carolina State University (NCSU) aimed to prepare students with visual impairments or blindness for college by engaging them in engineering activities, identifying assistive technology that may help them navigate college life, and introducing them to mentors.

Student participants with different levels of vision engaged in multisensory and engaging activities that introduced them to various fields of engineering and current problems engineers collaborate to solve. For example, students explored alternative energy sources as they worked through the engineering design process to design a generator powered by wind. In another activity, students designed a maze for a robot to test the navigation of the robot. This connected to current research at NCSU in which engineers are developing ways to control roaches to assist the location and rescue of survivors in collapsed buildings. Through engineering activities, students excelled in activities that required teamwork, incorporated accessible technology when needed, and were the most tactile.

Integrated throughout the program, "tech time-outs" were used to introduce or review assistive technology devices. Some of these time-outs were in response to individual needs, while others introduced a tool that might benefit the entire group. For example, students were introduced to a screen-sharing app that allowed students to view materials being displayed on the whiteboard directly on their own computers or tablets. The students could then access this material using their device's built-in magnification and other low vision features. A personal, portable document camera connected directly to a tablet was used to magnify materials in order for students to independently work with wires and circuit boards and to observe their team members. These tech time-outs contributed to student knowledge of empowering technologies, the potential use of assistive technology both in and outside of classroom settings, and their confidence in this area. Through these interactions students were encouraged to advocate for their individual needs.

Mentorship opportunities with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students and professionals were explicitly included throughout the week. Participants in this experience toured mechanical engineering and computer science labs on NCSU's campus and were able to perform tactile components of the research. This provided informal opportunities for students to ask undergraduate and graduate students working in the labs about their career paths that inspired them to go into the specific fields of engineering. Additionally, a panel of students and professionals with visual impairments or blindness in STEM fields talked about their experiences, what has worked for them, and possible career paths. By bringing together a group of individuals in diverse stages of their careers, participants in the camp were able to see a variety of ways to reach success in these fields. High school participants benefited from both formal and informal opportunities to learn how others have pursued STEM careers.

The Engineering Experience for High School Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness is a promising practice for preparing students for college because of how it offered diverse hands-on activities where students learned about many engineering fields as well as assistive technology and how it allowed participants to engage with mentors. This program was funded in part by an AccessEngineering minigrant. For additional resources and information on increasing the participation of people with disabilities in engineering academic programs and careers visit AccessEngineering.