Gallaudet University announced on June 17, 2013, it has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant award to fund scholarships for students majoring in biology, chemistry, or mathematics. The project, entitled Overcoming Barriers to STEM Success for Deaf Undergraduates aims to address a severe under-representation of deaf and hard of hearing people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The grant of approximately $520,000 will fund scholarships for six or seven students annually over five years.

The goals of the STEM scholarship project are to increase the number of talented deaf students who choose a STEM major and ensure they are well-prepared for graduate programs and careers,” said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. As a trained engineer, I understand the value of a STEM degree. The National Science Foundation grant is helping us prepare our students for the careers of today and tomorrow.”

The goals will be accomplished by recruiting deaf students into the STEM majors offered at Gallaudet, providing individual and group activities to support undergraduate STEM scholars, assist the STEM scholars in addressing and overcoming cultural and language barriers, and providing strategies to the scholars for succeeding in STEM graduate programs and/or STEM careers after they complete their studies at Gallaudet.

Co-Principal Investigators Drs. Kathleen Arnos, Regina Nuzzo, and Paul Sabila are currently working with the Financial Aid, Admissions, and Academic Advising Offices to identify the first group of scholarship recipients. The students will take the same classes as their peers, but to assist them in staying on track and earning their degree, they will receive extra support and mentoring from STEM advisers.

Mentoring is at the heart of the STEM scholarship program, said Arnos, who is chair of the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics. The deaf community is an untapped resource for STEM professions, and in order to address this disparity, it is essential for our scholarship students to have guidance from their STEM advisors as well as professionals in the field who will help guide and encourage them. We plan to invite deaf professionals, including Gallaudet alumni, to campus to meet with students and discuss their jobs and the barriers they overcame. Through mentorship, our students will feel empowered and inspired to know that they can make significant contributions to their chosen fields.

Opportunities for internship and research experiences in fields such as genetics, bioinformatics, and ecology will be available through the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at Gallaudet and off-campus internships will be available at collaborating programs at Duke University, Tufts University and James Madison University, according to Arnos. To learn more about the scholarship program, click here.

This is the second STEM initiative at Gallaudet in recent years. In the spring of 2012, Gallaudet hosted a two-day mentoring and networking Workshop for Emerging Deaf and Hard of Hearing Scientists. The Workshop was funded by National Science Foundation grants (CNS-0837508 and MCB-1232380) and in collaboration with Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Washington, and San Francisco State University. The 97 workshop participants included high school, college, and graduate students who discussed common barriers, challenges, and solutions to pursuing degrees and careers in STEM fields.

The intention of the workshop was to establish networking opportunities to increase the number of deaf and hard of hearing people in STEM fields and to create a base of information for STEM students and employees. The ultimate goal is for the mentoring and resources shared at the workshop and in the resulting white paper to usher in a new era of inclusion and access.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

*This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1259237. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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