While OSAA’s primary focus is on students in college, it also engages in essential interventions aimed at recruiting high school SwD to STEM degree programs (regardless of institution) and preparing them for success at university. OSAA sponsors on-campus learning community activities for students with disabilities in their junior and senior years of high school. The most prominent of these is the 5-day summer residential campus experience known as Diverse-Ability U.
Rising high school juniors and senior SwD who are considering science, mathematics or engineering as a course of post-secondary study are recruited state-wide to attend Diverse-Ability U. each summer. Students with all types of sensory, motor, cognitive and psychological disabilities are accepted each year. Participating students live in Wright State residence halls and are under the supervision of OSAA staff on a 24-hour basis. The staff are assisted by college student counselors recruited from the OSAA Scholars program.
The activities that make-up Diverse-Ability U. focus on STEM academic experiences and on development of personal skills and planning essential for college success. Typically, three academic modules taught by Wright State STEM faculty form the STEM component of the program, and each of these is divided into a morning lecture and an afternoon hands-on laboratory experience. Additionally, the students are divided into teams to work on supervised independent research projects that draw from content of the academic modules. The project is supervised by a faculty member and is completed during designated periods and free time out of class. The project culminates in a poster session in which each team has the opportunity to present its results to parents, faculty and staff gathered for a closing lunch. In addition to providing college level STEM experience, the academic program is designed to give students practice and feedback in critical thinking, appropriate classroom behavior, teamwork, and presentation skills that will be needed when they begin their college careers.
Many of the personal and psychosocial skill development components of Diverse-Ability U. are embedded in the overall experience of living and functioning on campus that is created by the residential college “immersion” provided by the event. This experience requires students to carefully manage their time and be prepared to attend classes, live with a roommate, work in student teams and advocate for themselves to obtain needed accommodations.
Formal lecture and hands on activities are also used to address personal development topics essential to preparing for college. These include testing and reviews designed to assist the students in making self-assessment of strengths, weaknesses and learning styles, as well as exercises in educational and career goal setting. Additional instruction is provided on self- advocacy skills and the importance of including internships, research and other work experience as a part of college attendance for STEM majors.
Finally, the academic and personal development components of Diverse-Ability U. are balanced with recreation in the form of water sports, bowling and gym activities, and team building exercises, as well as just “hanging-out” with one another and college student counselors.
Evaluation results over the past four years suggest that Diverse-Ability U. is a useful program for college bound SwD with interests in STEM fields. For example, a majority of the participants report that their confidence with hands-on science, level of personal responsibility for college success, engagement, self- determination and intent to persist on their educational paths were affected “a lot” (maximum rating) by this event. Most importantly, 100% of the students indicate that their confidence in making a successful transition to college was increased. A positive side effect of Diverse-Ability U. has been the eventual enrollment of several of the alumni at Wright State in STEM majors and their participation as OSAA Scholars.