Auburn awarded $10 million by NSF to steer nationwide STEM schooling initiative for disabled college students

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Auburn University has received $ 10 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to lead a national research effort promoting science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM education among disabled students.

The scholarship will support a five-year program that will grow over time, says Overtoun Jenda, assistant provost for special projects and initiatives in Auburn, whose office will manage the initiative.

“We’re starting out as a 27-institution alliance,” said Jenda, professor of mathematics at the College of Sciences and Mathematics. “The award was officially announced on August 1st and the first 90 days will include developing a strategic plan that will guide the alliance.”

The funds will be used to conduct research related to improving human resource development opportunities for people with disabilities. The research collaboration is a national project aimed at increasing the number of disabled students who attend college and complete a degree in a STEM-related field of study.

“This prestigious National Science Foundation award will enable Auburn and partnering institutions to nurture a more diverse workforce while improving educational opportunities for students with disabilities,” said James Weyhenmeyer, vice president of research and economic development, Auburn.

Students also receive benefits such as peer and faculty mentoring, research opportunities, and financial support. The program has three main objectives: 1) to increase the number of students with disabilities who complete associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM; 2) Facilitating the transition of students with disabilities from the MINT degree to the MINT workforce; and 3) improving communication and collaboration between academia, industry, government, national laboratories and local communities to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities in STEM subjects.

“People with disabilities are one of the most underrepresented groups in STEM education and employment,” said Jenda. “And they comprise a disproportionately smaller proportion of STEM degrees and jobs compared to their proportions in the US population.

“This alliance should help to close this gap. Students will participate through scholarships, internship conferences, and mentoring. “

According to Jenda, Auburn leads this initiative, which is divided into six regional hubs.

“Auburn oversees the entire alliance while also running the Southeast Hub,” said Jenda.

Other leading institutions are Northern Arizona University (Mountain Hub), Ohio State University (Northeastern Hub), University of Hawaii-Manoa (Islands Hub), University of Missouri-Kansas City (Midwest Hub), and University of Washington ( West Coast Hub). Auburn works closely with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the backbone organization for the Alliance, to support communication, engagement, connected systems, data collection and analysis, sustainability, scaling and dissemination.

Jenda is assisted in program administration by others in Auburn, including David Shannon of the College of Education, Daniela Marghitu of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering – a member of the NSF Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Technology, or CEOSE – Brittany McCullough of the Office of Special Projects and Initiatives and Carl Pettis, Provost at Alabama State University, also one of the institutions involved.

The award is part of the NSF INCLUDES initiative, one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, which invests in programs that address diversity, inclusion and participation challenges in the STEM field at the national level. The Auburn-led alliance is one of only five INCLUDES awards the NSF is giving out this year.

“To ensure America’s competitiveness in a global research landscape, it is of national importance to create pathways to success for a STEM workforce that reflects the US population,” said Sylvia Butterfield, associate director of Education and Human Resources NSF. “NSF INCLUDES alliances provide a structure to address this issue and for the STEM company to work together to achieve inclusive change.”

Jenda, a professor in Auburn since 1988, was part of a group of a dozen university professors who received the 2020 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. This award is also administered by the NSF and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and recognizes excellence in mentoring college and university professors.


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