About Project POEM

The purpose of this Strategies project is to better understand how the combination of project-based learning (PBL) and mentoring can provide middle and high school (grades 7-11) students with visual impairments (VI) experiences necessary to pursue STEM subjects and careers. Project-Based Learning Opportunities and Exploration of Mentorship (POEM) intentionally combines PBL and a dual-tiered mentoring experience (i.e., e-mentoring with an industry mentor with VI and a university mentor) while gathering data about students' with VI attitudes and interests in STEM-related careers.  Individuals with disabilities are under-represented in the STEM fields (Leddy, 2010; National Science Foundation [NSF] Division of Science Resource Statistics, 2015). Yet little systematic research has been undertaken to explore the underlying reasons, or more importantly, what strategies can effectively be used to close the gap (Powers, Schmidt, Sowers, & McCracken, 2015). Project POEM will develop and evaluate an intervention that develops a curriculum focusing on Earth and planetary science that contains strategies used in the project to allow others to carry out a compelling intervention with students with VI to increase their STEM awareness, knowledge, persistence, and resilience. The curriculum will be disseminated nationally through the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Project POEM has three goals:

  1. Create a set of activities based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which will increase STEM awareness and capacity of students with VI;
  2. Connect students with VI with industry mentors with VI to learn about their preparation and work in STEM-related careers; and
  3. Pair students with VI with university STEM mentors to complete a project, which will enhance persistence and resilience towards STEM and career exploration.

Students with VI will take part in a 14-month intervention comprised of a Readiness Academy, Exploration Activities, and an Enrichment Institute. Each student with VI will be paired with an industry mentor who is also VI. A set of activities will guide their interactions as the student learns about the work of the mentor and the technology options used by the mentor on the job site. Students with VI will be paired with a university mentor in a STEM-related major. With guidance from the university mentor, the student with VI will complete a module from a selected activities that will utilize publicly available images and data from the HiRISE camera currently operating on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The successful intervention strategies used in the PBL activities, the mentoring experiences, and the program and evaluation materials developed through this project will be published as a curriculum so others can replicate the program nationally.

According to the current NSF Merit Review Criteria published in the Grant Proposal Guidelines, the following Broader Impact goal is explicitly included: Full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM. Beyond the research that is being conducted, Project POEM will directly benefit up to 35 middle and high school student with VI and their industry mentors with VI. The project will develop a curriculum that will allow teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) and others to replicate the project model to enhance STEM education for students with VI throughout the United States.