UF Health to Develop STEM Learning Disability Program

The University of Florida has received an $846,000 National Science Foundation grant and plans to develop a program to assist students with learning disabilities to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

Students with learning disabilities make up between 46 and 61 percent of college students who have a disability, according to UF Health. Learning disabilities include dyslexia (reading disability), dyscalculia (math disability) and dysgraphia (writing impairment).

“You can imagine how difficult it would be to go into engineering if you have a math learning disability,” said Consuelo Kreider, one of the grant’s co-principal investigators and a lecturer in the department of occupational therapy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “But we know it’s possible for students with learning disabilities to learn the material affected by their specific learning disability.”

With the grant money, researchers in Comprehensive Support for STEM Students with Learning Disability, or CS3LD, will “create, implement and validate” a model for improving the learning, participation and graduation of college students with learning disabilities in STEM majors, according to the press release.

The project’s core team includes UF faculty members from both health and STEM disciplines. Fifty UF undergraduate students will be matched with a mentorship team that includes a graduate student in STEM, a STEM faculty member, a UF Disability Resource Center counselor and one of the study’s principal investigators.

In addition, students will receive support in development of self-advocacy for academics and health, and personal and professional development. Project leaders will also create a campus-wide network of STEM faculty, staff and graduate students to help facilitate the academic needs of students with learning disabilities.

“When you teach students with learning disabilities a new concept, you may need to give a roadmap — a lay of the land — then teach the specifics and turn around and point out again how those specifics fit into the map,” Kreider said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the STEM industry employed 8 million people as of May 2009. Initiatives like UF’s Innovation Square have recently attempted to keep STEM graduates in Gainesville.

For more information, visit stemscholar.phhp.ufl.edu.

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