Student Learning Communities: A Promising Practice to Recruit STEM Students with Disabilities

Date Updated

Student learning communities (SLCs) are a collection of activities organized by common goals that a group of students complete together. One major postsecondary Midwestern institution has been using SLCs as a tool to recruit students with disabilities to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They have developed two levels of SLCs for use with high school and college students:

  • The beginner SLC prepares high school and community college students to transition to four-year colleges and STEM majors. It is offered as a residential program at the university over four to five days and as a weekly class on campus. Through this SLC, students can experience college, identify needed accommodations or assistive technology, meet with career development specialists, disability services counselors, and other college staff, and gain experiences in STEM fields.
  • The advanced SLC is designed to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for internships and employment. The advanced SLC is offered as a weekly class held on campus. At the conclusion of the class students develop a self-advocacy plan and transition portfolio. Students in the advanced SLC also serve as mentors to students in the beginning SLC.

Both the beginner and advanced SLCs focus on core transition areas for students with disabilities such as self-awareness, self-determination and self-advocacy, assistive technology, career exploration, networking, study skills, setting goals, and internships and employment.

The evaluation results of the SLCs suggest that they are a promising practice for recruiting and retaining students with disabilities in STEM fields. Students in both SLCs report gaining skills and learning information that will help them in their education and career. The beginner SLC participants indicated that as a result of their participation they produced meaningful self-advocacy plans, were more self-aware of their learning and personality styles, and learned about STEM fields. Participants in the advanced SLC also reported producing meaningful self-advocacy plans and in addition learned about time management skills, the importance of internships, disclosing their disability, and accommodations.

This Promising Practice was based on information reported in Izzo, M.V., Murray, A., Priest, S., and McArrell, B. (2011). Using student learning communities to recruit STEM students with disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(4), 301-316 and developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and The Ohio State University Nisonger Center, supported by Midwestern Alliance in STEM (NSF RDE #HRD-0533197, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and the Ohio Board of Regents.