February 2, 2012

Project Aims to Increase Graduation Rate of Deaf Students

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Cornell is working to implement a computer-based program to support deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in an effort to improve graduation rates of DHH students. The first students will enter the program in fall 2013.

The project, a joint endeavor between Cornell, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Camden County College in New Jersey, aims to develop a virtual academic community for DHH students interested in the STEM fields. The National Science Foundation’s Research in Disability Education program is funding the $1.6 million project, according to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s website. The virtual academic community will give DHH students access to real-time interpreting and captioning for courses in the STEM fields and, when completed, provide virtual tutoring and mentoring, according to Michele Fish, associate director of Student Disability Services at Cornell.

Fish said the project will encourage DHH students to continue to pursue STEM fields by addressing challenges deaf students encounter when studying those subjects.

“The in-class environment can be more challenging [for DHH students in STEM fields] because it’s harder for interpreters and captionists to work with mathematical or scientific formulas,” she said.

The program aims to remove this barrier by providing virtual tutors who are DHH students and alumni in STEM fields, Fish said.

“[DHH students and graduates] have their own experience to inform them about how to best enhance learning,” Fish said.

Although there are only around 16 DHH students at Cornell, Fish said the program may help boost recruitment of DHH students at Cornell. She added that there is currently only one DHH student at Cornell in a STEM field.

Fish said the program may help boost recruitment of DHH students at Cornell.

“Our numbers [of DHH students] are very small, but we would love to have more students come here if they know that this project is something that they might be involved in,” she said.

Fish expressed optimism that the program will improve the retention of DHH students in STEM fields through its emphasis on mentoring.

“[Having] someone who [DHH students] can identify with who’s been through the [same] experience will be very encouraging,” she said.

Fish said that although the project looks promising, it will not officially begin unless it shows substantial success.

Because the National Science Foundation faces funding constraints, the program grant is conditional and may be discontinued if results are not satisfactory, she said.

“In two years, the project of the grant will be re-evaluated. Only if it’s successful, there will be continued funding to allow student participation,” Fish said.

Still, Fish noted that it will take time before the University is able to publish any results of the program’s impact.

In a press statement, Gerry Buckley, president of the NTID, said that the project will be extended to high schools and colleges around the United States if it proves to successful.

Fish hopes that, at Cornell, the program will not only benefit DHH students but also improve Student Disability Services’ understanding of the specific challenges that they face.

“The project will force us to track exact graduation rates of DHH students in STEM fields, and retention rates of those students in the STEM fields. It allows us to understand what their goals and expectations are, as well as their main challenges,” Fish said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee