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Students Learn About Disabilities Through Research, Mentoring

UD students looking for a unique educational experience have found that working with individuals with disabilities offers flexibility, real-world applications and research opportunities.

Samantha Fox and Patty Pierson are seniors in the disabilities studies minor who are involved in a research project with Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS) researchers Beth Mineo and Christine Barthold. The Steppingstones project uses a computer program that tailors pictures to a child’s preferences and abilities and collects data about the representational level of the images the child responds to most easily.

Samantha, an early childhood education major, said her involvement in Stepping Stones has helped support her education and her career goal of becoming a special education teacher. Both the minor and research project have helped her “relate what is being learned in my college courses to what will be practiced as a teacher of students with disabilities.”

The research project has given Patty a greater understanding of children with disabilities and their families. Such an experience may not have been available to Patty through her major, exercise physiology. She plans to study occupational therapy in graduate school.

Because of a positive internship experience working with students with intellectual disabilities in a local school district, UD senior Alexis Short decided to pursue an independent study related to disabilities. She is working with Laura Eisenman, associate professor in the School of Education, collecting data on the social networks of students enrolled in CLSC. Alexis said she has been “inspired” by her experience and hopes to apply what she has learned to future studies in speech pathology.

In spring 2011, CDS launched a class to offer UD students the chance to gain knowledge and experience mentoring people with disabilities in higher education settings, the campus community and local work sites. The course, which was offered again in the fall, included a “hands-on” mentoring experience as well as traditional classroom work.

One student enrolled in the class commented about how both she and the students she mentored worked together to accomplish their goals. “I watched them push themselves harder than I had ever seen them do before, so I know I made an impact and helped them achieve their goals.”

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