NMSU celebrates project to give persons with disabilities career computer skills
New Mexico State University celebrated a project that enables persons with physical disabilities to receive the support and education they need to successfully pursue computer and information science careers.
Students, faculty and staff gathered Nov. 2 to recognize Project ENABLE: Enabling Individuals with Disabilities Greater Participation in Computing at a Research Rally. Project ENABLE is a grant sponsored through the National Science Foundation to increase the number of persons with mobility disabilities pursuing a computer-related field. East Stroudsburg University is partnering with NMSU on the research.
“People with physical disabilities achieve what we as a society expect them to achieve, which is nothing,” said Jeanine Cook, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Project ENABLE is a pretty comprehensive program that attacks the issues that really are preventing people with disabilities from participating.”
Project ENABLE is a three-year collaborative program funded by the National Science Foundation to allow New Mexico State University to expose participants to computing as an educational and career path through a combination of workshops and mentoring. The project also proposes to investigate various interactive video conferencing strategies to implement the program and develop a model for institutions of higher education to effectively serve this population.
In the past several years, there has been a decline in the number of computer science degrees awarded in this country, making it necessary to recruit new people into the field that have traditionally participated at low levels. Persons with disabilities are one such group. Cook said that though there are more than 200 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 20 and 65, fewer than 1 percent hold a higher education degree in computer and information science.
“Persons with physical disabilities face many challenges,” said NMSU President Barbara Couture. “One of the challenges – that shouldn’t be a challenge for them – is whether or not they receive a quality education. This project is all about that.”
Cook’s ENABLE team is working to address the lack of role models for persons with disabilities through a mentoring program and interactions with scientists who have disabilities. ENABLE also addresses a lack of family support experienced by some persons with disabilities by educating families about their capabilities. Participants are introduced to assistive technology and to training through computer workshops.
The researchers are also investigating various interactive video conferencing strategies to determine how to effectively implement the proposed program and to potentially discover how institutions of higher education can effectively serve this population.
Sixty participants will be served through this three-year program. Participants are required to take part in the program for one year. During that time, they attend three computing workshops, one career night, one technology night and one transition event. They participate in the mentoring program throughout the year. Through Project ENABLE, persons with physical disabilities have the opportunity to network, learn from others and learn new technologies.
“I would love to see New Mexico State on a Top 10 list of campuses for people with disabilities. The reason I am here is because of accessibility,” Cook said. “This is a very accessible campus. Compared to most institutions across the nation, NMSU is, hands down, the most accessible campus I have ever been on.”
Project ENABLE is based on a pilot program of the same name that aimed to introduce persons with mobility-related disabilities to computing.
Cook leads Project ENABLE along with Jyh-Hann Chang, a practicing clinical psychologist who is an associate professor of psychology at ESU; Heather Day Pfeiffer, NMSU professor of electrical and computer engineering; Teresa Sletten, program coordinator at NMSU; and Kim Roselli, who coordinates the program from ESU. Cook and Chang are both persons with disabilities.
“Being persons with physical disabilities, Dr. Chang and I understand the issues that our participants face and we have a unique bond with and compassion for this community,” Cook said. “Both of us also have managed to achieve in spite of our disabilities so we both serve as positive role models for our participants.”
“Dr. Cook is committed to advocating for persons with disabilities and showing there is no reason to let a physical disability hold you back from pursuing your dreams,” Couture said. “We’re dedicated to producing a quality education for all individuals who are qualified to pursue an academic career and beyond.”
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