The National Science Foundation has awarded the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) a $199,585 eighteen-month Enrichment grant to investigate the creation of a virtual support network for deaf/hard-of-hearing college students around the country enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. The project, Testing the Concept of a Virtual Alliance for Deaf and Hard of Hearing STEM Students at the Postsecondary Level, will begin on September 1, 2009 and conclude on February 28, 2011.
The project is led by principal investigator E. William Clymer, associate director of NTID's Center on Access Technology (CAT), and co-principal investigators James J. DeCaro, director of CAT; Gary Behm, an RIT alum who is currently a loaned executive from IBM; and Peter Lalley, professor in the NTID Department of Science and Mathematics. The grant will be used to plan for a "virtual alliance" to support and connect STEM students through a cyberinfrastructure never before available.
The project draws upon RIT/NTID's four decades as the nation's leading technological college for deaf students and the first to welcome deaf/hard-of-hearing students to a campus designed principally for hearing students. NTID's 1,300 deaf students study and live with 15,000 hearing students at RIT.
Estimates show that more than 31,000 deaf/hard-of-hearing students are enrolled at more than 2,300 colleges around the country. While this number has increased by almost 50 percent in the last decade, the number of those students choosing STEM programs has not. The purpose of the virtual support network is to reverse this stagnation by offering students an academic and social support network to offset the current lack of quality support services in areas such as interpreting, notetaking, captioning, counseling, mentoring, and tutoring.
The idea for the alliance grew out of a 2008 NSF-sponsored "Cyber Community Summit" held at RIT/NTID that brought together national and regional leaders in the field of support service provision for postsecondary deaf/hard-of-hearing students. One outcome of the summit was a report outlining captioning and communication support ideas for deaf/hard-of-hearing students in STEM mainstreamed classrooms.
The grant will help identify how many students are in STEM programs, which colleges they attend, and what resources they need to be successful. Partnering with the national Postsecondary Education Programs Network (PEPNet), whose north-east regional center is located at RIT/NTID, investigators will conduct online focus groups with PEPNet leaders to identify key attributes related to academic success of current and recently graduated high school STEM students. Several colleges and universities will be selected to partner in development of a proposal for an NSF virtual alliance and to pilot a prototype cyberinfrastructure system that would support such a future virtual alliance.
"We envision a not-too-distant future when we will host a cybernetwork that provides support services to thousands of students around the country who are deaf and studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," says DeCaro. "By constructing a student need-driven network we also will provide opportunities for these men and women to support each other and explore strategies to overcome the common challenges they often face."
The Center on Access Technology at NTID, created in 2006, addresses the challenge of utilizing or adapting new technologies for use in postsecondary settings by investigating and reporting on technologies likely to directly improve access to students, particularly classroom access technologies, mobile technologies, audio and sound technologies, and training and evaluation services. The Center's main strands of research include cyberinfrastructure and provision of remote services, classroom access technologies, mobile technologies, and audio and technologies of particular interest to hard-of-hearing persons.