UW News

July 17, 2012

DO-IT celebrates 20 years preparing students with disabilities for college

UW News

A group of Washington high-school students will arrive at the University of Washington campus this week for the annual DO-IT Scholars Summer Study program.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the summer program, which has now helped launch the careers of hundreds of students from Washington and beyond who have a wide range of disabilities.

DO-IT Scholars, July 17-27

DO-IT stands for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology. The students learn about challenging careers in fields including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I think we’re making a dent in making the world a little more accessible,” said director and founder Sheryl Burgstahler, an affiliate professor in the UW’s College of Education.

2011 DO-IT Scholars

2011 DO-IT Scholars

The program’s website includes bios of last year’s incoming scholars, who will be back at the UW this summer, as well as updated photos and biographies of all participants since the program’s inception. Browse through and see how hundreds of students have graduated to tackle everything from accounting to law school to physics to web design.

For example, Burgstahler points to Nicole Torcolini, who became a  DO-IT Scholar in 2006 while a student at Central Kitsap High School. Torcolini did a research internship with Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. This spring she completed her degree in computer science at Stanford University with a focus on human-computer interaction.

“Nicole was clearly bright enough, but negotiating all those steps as someone who is blind was difficult,” Burgstahler said. “DO-IT helps prepare students with disabilities for these challenges.”

In addition to running the summer program, the DO-IT Center gives presentations for faculty to learn how to teach students who have disabilities, for parents to help prepare their kids for college, and offers tips to make college services and technology accessible to everyone.

It’s unusual for a grant-funded program to persist for two decades. Burgstahler credits DO-IT’s achievement to its multipronged approach and its ability to build on past successes.

DO-IT Scholars in 1993

Director Sheryl Burgstahler, on the right, and the first cohort of DO-IT Scholars in 1993.DO-IT, U. of Washington

A cornerstone of DO-IT is the Scholars program, which includes up to three summers on the UW campus. Beginning Tuesday, about 15 new DO-IT scholars who are in their sophomore or junior year of high school will move into McCarty Hall, where they will spend 10 days living in the dorms, experiencing campus life and participating in an academic program. This year’s curriculum includes visits to a UW neural engineering center, the UW Botany Greenhouse and Seattle nonprofit Reel Grrls for a session on disability and the media.

“DO-IT scholars learn about college life by living in a dorm, getting along with a roommate, participating in academic classes, preparing for challenging careers and having fun,” Burgstahler said.

Returning second-year scholars will arrive Saturday and stay on campus for one week. They mentor the first-year participants while also pursuing their own program. Students can apply to come back for a third year as interns; a dozen interns will help run this year’s session.

After completing DO-IT Scholars, participants continue to be involved as supporters and mentors. Many local alumni come back for the annual dance.

“I tell the students when they come that it’s sometimes hard to get into DO-IT, because it is competitive, but that it’s even harder to get out,” Burgstahler joked.

After two decades, DO-IT is a community whose members help and encourage each other. Former participants now in their 30s report on married life, kids and their post-college careers. Members of the online DO-IT community share tips on modifying cars or navigating job interviews.

DO-IT Scholars targets Washington state high-school students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing higher education. The disabilities range from attention-deficit disorder and Asperger’s syndrome to physical disabilities such as visual or motor impairments.

Students apply to the program during the fall with recommendations from their parents, teachers and counselors. Each year, around 15 new students enter the program. Once selected, the students are loaned computers, software and assistive technology to learn in their homes. After the summer session, the DO-IT program continues during the school year with independent projects and online interaction with mentors, teachers and other students.

DO-IT Scholars began in 1993 as a national effort funded by the National Science Foundation. After 1999 it continued as a program for Washington students funded by the state of Washington, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.  Other supporters of this year’s summer program are Boeing, Microsoft and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.


For information about DO-IT visit http://www.uw.edu/doit , email doit@uw.edu or call 206-685-3648 (voice/TTY) or 888-972-3648 (voice/TTY).

Reporters: To schedule photo opportunities, program visits and interviews with students, staff and instructors, contact program coordinator Scott Bellman at 206-685-6222 or swb3@uw.edu.