The Midwest Alliance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Midwest) is a consortium of educators, scientists and disability service providers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). The principal objectives of the Midwest Alliance are to increase the number of students with disabilities who are (a) exploring opportunities in STEM, (b) entering and succeeding in STEM disciplines at the associate, baccalaureate and graduate levels, and (c) having careers in STEM.

Midwest has strong partnerships locally, regionally, and nationally that benefit students, faculty and institutions across the tri-state area, and contribute to the goal of helping students with disabilities connect, persist and achieve in postsecondary education. Midwest efforts and activities center on the following three areas:

1) Direct Student Interventions (e.g., mentorships, internships, STEM enrichment and immersion activities such as the Exploration by Design summer camps, and transition and self-advocacy learning) 2) Indirect Student Interventions (e.g., teacher training in inclusive science instruction and curricular development) 3) Systems Interventions (e.g., identifying and defining comprehensive strategies for supporting students with disabilities by improving student access and accommodations, AT development, and reporting on evidence-based interventions and practices).

Midwest programs and activities are focused on critical junctures, including the transition from high school to postsecondary education; are designed to utilize promising and/or successful practices; and include a dissemination component through journal publications, our website and newsletter, and presentations at conferences. Midwest uses both formative and summative evaluation in its continuous improvement efforts.

Project Report

(STEM) was established September 1, 2005. A collaborative effort involving the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Northern Iowa, the objective was increasing the number of Students With Disabilities (SWD) in STEM postsecondary education leading to STEM careers. Given the low participation by SWD in STEM, there is an extraordinary need for work resulting in improved success. The Midwest Alliance programs formed a comprehensive system, and approached this challenge at multiple levels and through multiple methods. A unified program of change was integrated throughout the Midwest Alliance such that once a SWD was recruited and began participation in Alliance activities, the student was involved in Midwest Alliance programs all the way to career entry. The Midwest Alliance activities broadened the opportunities for SWD in STEM and increased the number of SWD in STEM because of: 1) Enhanced opportunities for SWD in STEM through the three-state area and beyond, resulting in increases in participation and choice, 2) Improvements in educator use of inclusive STEM education in classrooms and laboratories, and 3) Systemic changes effecting national practice and long-term directions in policy related to SWD in post-secondary STEM education. Direct Student Impact Interventions were those activities that the Midwest Alliance employed to identify, attract, and support SWD throughout their exploration, entry, and continuance in STEM fields. The actions or events SWD go through are sequential and each must be successful before the next phase can be started. Interventions are typically needed at each juncture in order for SWD to be successful and to ensure a successful trajectory. In addition, the Midwest Alliance maintained that programs for SWD are necessary, but not sufficient to ensure student success. Interventions for support staff and teachers/faculty are another necessary area of service. Called Indirect Student Impact Interventions, this group of services provided training and support to those who work with SWD during their education and careers. Lastly, System Impact Interventions includes those systems that are needed to support SWD throughout their educational journey. Consider the student with physical disabilities who requires personal assistance services. Without these services, the student would not be able to participate, no matter how effective the recruiting or retention strategies. Further increasing the numbers of successful SWD is a complex task that will require new understanding about how to improve opportunities and participation. The intellectual impact of the Midwest Alliance includes 1) New learning about assisting SWD to explore, matriculate, persist to graduation, and pursue careers in STEM, 2) New understanding about providing professional development for educators in teaching inclusive STEM, and 3) New systemic approaches to reducing barriers and promoting changes that facilitate opportunities and participation for SWD in STEM. Major accomplishments of the Midwest Alliance include: Establishment of active collaboration between three different post-secondary institutions in the Midwest. Virtually all Midwest Alliance programs involved three-state participation, including joint leadership, joint planning, and multi-campus implementation. Establishment of a comprehensive program assisting SWD to succeed in STEM. This included successful programs in mentoring, internships, enrichment activities, and immersion experiences. Exponential growth in success recruiting students to Midwest Alliance programs. For example, the last full year of the Midwest Alliance, 251 students participated in Midwest’s mentoring, internship, and immersion programs. 2400+ educators, staff members, and pre-service education students participated in 80+ workshops to improve their ability to teach STEM subjects inclusively. 18 journal articles, electronic publications and conference proceedings, 3 books, and book chapters, with more in process, discussing topics related to opportunities and challenges for SWD in STEM, such as comprehensive transitional support services, STEM educator attitudes toward SWD, strategies for inclusive teaching, and assistive technology issues 180+ presentations at national, regional, state, and local conferences and workshops A quarterly newsletter distributed to 2700+ subscribers Continuous evolution of the web presence including a website registering 4,836 visits and 16,584 page-views for the 10 month period from March 13, 2009 to January 22, 2010, and the use of social networking sites as a means to recruit SWD Two national surveys through the Association for Higher Education and Disability evaluating 1) The state of comprehensive postsecondary services for students with severe physical disabilities and 2) The state of comprehensive postsecondary services for students with psychiatric disabilities National workshops about Personal Assistant Services for Students with Severe Physical Disabilities and STEM, and Students with Psychiatric Disabilities in STEM were held in the summers of 2008 and 2009 Development of assistive technologies to assist students with severe physical disabilities to be successful in living and learning environments Critical collaborations, including Public School systems, other Alliances, and the technical and community college systems in the three state area Ongoing formative and summative evaluation using an educative, values-engaged approach (Greene et al., 2006) for the improvement of the Midwest Alliance.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Human Resource Development (HRD)
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Mary Moriarty
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University of Wisconsin Madison
United States
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