The Quality of Life Technology Enrichment (QuOTE) Project was awarded to The University of Pittsburg's Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (QoLT ERC). The NSF-funded QoLT is a unique partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh whose mission is to transform lives in a large and growing segment of the population: people with reduced functional capabilities due to aging or disability. The PI and her team will focus their efforts on building a model to transition students with disabilities across two critical academic junctures in post-secondary STEM education. They will create and evaluate a model that involves the cyber infrastructure development and that can be easily replicated and adapted by other post-secondary institutions. The specific objectives of the project are: 1. Create a university-wide data collection system on students with disabilities; 2. Develop an infrastructure to support an online learning community for faculty and students with disabilities in STEM fields (the ConnectAbility portal); 3. Pilot and evaluate the model and the components of the model. The ConnectAbility portal will include web-based faculty and mentor training modules; a two-course series, one for Freshmen and one for Junior and Senior students related to transition issues; and an e-mentoring program that uses the two-course series to facilitate communication and interaction between mentors and mentees. The ConnectAbility portal will be designed to allow easy replication and adaptation by other institutions and serve as a one-stop gateway for all program staff and participants. The project will ensure the accessibility of the portal and comply with current accessibility standards and guidelines (e.g., the WCAG 2.0 and the Section 508 standards). The evaluation plan for this project will use educational process and outcome measures that address program effectiveness in (1) gathering and analyzing data and (2) developing, piloting, and evaluating interventions. Results from this project have the potential to inform and influence post-secondary STEM education for students with disabilities by building and evaluating a replicable model for the delivery of practices the promote success for students with disabilities in STEM post-secondary education and employment-related programs.

Project Report

Goal 1 Objective 1.1: We created a system to collect and analyze data on students with disabilities (SWD) at Pitt. This involved constructing a new infrastructure to be able to determine the enrollment number, retention rate, and graduation rate, of SWD in the STEM disciplines at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at PITT. The process involved mining current institutional databases to collect additional student data (major, enrollment dates, transfer and/or graduation dates (where applicable) to add to the database that the Office of Disability Resources and Services (DRS) currently maintains. Objective 1.2: We identified the best practices and successful strategies from current RDE Alliance Programs on transitioning SWD in the STEM fields from 2-year to 4-year, 4-year to workforce, and 4-year to graduate school. We surveyed the literature produced by previous STEM Alliance programs. We also carried out research at PITT to identify the factors that facilitate and hinder the progression of SWD in the STEM fields across critical junctures including transitioning from 2 year to 4 year, from 4 year to workforce, and from 4-year to graduate school. An on-line survey was carried out for Students with Disabilities (SWD) at PITT in March/April 2013 to gain this information. Furthermore, we also surveyed the literature surrounding this topic. In addition we surveyed current SWD and alumni from Pitt to identify specific success strategies used and barriers in the campus environment. We connected with the Pitt Student Disability Advocacy group (SDA) to assist in drafting the on-line survey for SWD through a preliminary needs assessment and later review of the draft. Goal 2 Objective 2.1: The planned creation of an interactive online portal, the QuOTE Connect Ability portal, was swapped for Course Sites & Panopto because they are open source portals/resources that all interested users can access. Furthermore, the video lectures and PowerPoints for the HRS 1700 CACPS course as well as the mentor training course will serve, as a knowledge base for promoting recommended practices in achieving equal opportunity & universal design implementation for Pitt as well as other interested sources. Objective 2.2: We recruited mentors for the course and prepared training modules that include material developed by previous/current National Science Foundation (NSF) disability alliances. The mentors accessed the training materials on the same LMS prior to their involvement in the course to become "certified". Objective 2.3: We took the data from our literature reviews and the survey for SWD to develop our course syllabus. Additionally, we intend to submit this evidence-based course development process as a conference abstract, to include literature and survey results and course syllabus. Objective 2.4, 2.5: As part of the HRS 1700 CACPS course students are paired with mentors to discuss and clarify concepts they have learned, by using a series of case-studies designed to promote problem solving and thinking out of the box. Goal 3 Objective 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3: Prior to the launch of the course, a pilot study was conducted using undergraduate & graduate Pitt students in June/July 2013 to test the feasibility and accessibility of the HRS 1700 CACPS course. Objective 3.2: Having been granted approval by the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) at Pitt we offered a 1 credit course, HRS 1700 College Achievement and Career Preparation Seminar (CACPS). For the class lectures each week, a guest lecturer is either invited in person, or through Skype. The talk by the guest speakers aims to provide the students with an opportunity to gain an insight into how the lecture topic applies into a real world scenario. Each of the guest speakers are either individuals with disabilities who have achieved remarkably in their respective fields, or are individuals who have a wealth of experience working with (Persons with Disabilities) PWD. The course is now being offered as a Massive Open Online Course and will launch in summer 2015.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Human Resource Development (HRD)
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Mark H. Leddy
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University of Pittsburgh
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