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AAAS's ENTRY POINT! Nurtures the Skills of Science Students with Disabilities
Angela Lee Foreman is working on her doctoral degree at the University of California-Davis, with her research focused on the human immune system. This summer, though, she shifted gears: She spent a couple of months at the Hatfield Marine Station in Oregon, living in a spare apartment with four bunk beds and no television and thinking a lot about Chinook salmon.
Foreman is deaf, and as a student in AAAS's ENTRY POINT! program, she found that the break from her usual field of study for a summer with Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a research center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was a time of concentrated growth, rich in surprises and new knowledge.
To make the summer such a success, AAAS and NOAA provided special telephone equipment and a certified sign language interpreter to work with her on the job. According to Foreman and others, that's what defines the success of ENTRY POINT!: It recognizes the skills of young scientists with disabilities, and provides whatever necessary to nurture their potential.
"ENTRY POINT! is important for American culture," Foreman said in a recent email interview, because it "allows the scientific community to recognize the many abilities ENTRY POINT! interns have to offer…. Now, young scientists with disabilities and many abilities are able to gain experience and will have their foot in the door in obtaining appropriate employment opportunities when they complete their studies."
Since 1996, ENTRY POINT! has provided internships to hundreds of students with strong academic records in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. After internships ranging from IBM, JPMorganChase and Texas Instruments to NOAA, NASA and the National Institutes for Health, many have gone on to flourish in careers that might have been closed to them in decades past.
"Through ENTRY POINT!, AAAS has identified a new pool of intellectually talented students with all types of disabilities who are pursuing rigorous courses of study," said program Director Virginia Stern, who also heads the AAAS Project on Science, Technology and Disability. "ENTRY POINT! internships, supported by assistive technology, significantly expand the students' opportunities for graduate studies and employment in technical fields, both in the public and private sector. ENTRY POINT! attracts the most talented students in STEM fields."
AAAS has long been an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, providing full accessibility to its annual meetings since 1976. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 now requires the removal of barriers that have historically kept people with disabilities from fully integrating into society.
Those barriers must be eradicated if the U.S. is to remain a leader in the competitive global market, Clinton Turner Jr., project manager for AAAS Science NetLinks, said during an ENTRY POINT! program in July at the association's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"We need people with disabilities to get out there and represent and do the best that they can do to help us move our technologies forward," Turner said after the session. "And we need teachers to understand the needs of students with disabilities so that they can prepare students to go out and do these kinds of jobs."
Jeremy Johansen has had two ENTRY POINT! internships, having just completed a summer at NASA headquarters in Washington. In September, he'll be returning to his doctoral work in mechanical engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Johansen's first internship came in 2002, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. There, with the help of special software and other support to compensate for his visual impairment, he worked to develop algorhythms related to the complex sensors for an autonomous unmanned aircraft. "When you don't have a human pilot on board," he explained, "you have to have a way for sensors in the computer to mimic the processes a human pilot would go through in determining whether one of the sensors is giving an inaccurate reading."
That internship gave him new confidence that he could go anywhere to do his work. In the summer of 2003, he had a 10-week research internship in Japan. This summer, he was back with NASAbut getting an entirely new perspective.
"I was in the Action Center of the Return to Flight, what is now the Office of Space Flight," he said in a recent phone interview. "That's where all oversight of the shuttle, the international space station and everything related to flying in space is overseen…. For me, one of the values as an engineer was to see how the little systems I'd worked on at Wallops come together in such a large scale when thousands and thousands of engineers are working on components of the programhow those come together at NASA headquarters and how the project moves forward to completion."
For both Johansen and Foreman, ENTRY POINT! was all about new perspectivesperspectives that make them better scientists and that allow them to make more significant contributions.
"Confidence is a key," says Johansen. "Technical expertise is another key. Insight on how industry works, and everything related to an actual job and working after schoolthose are all very important pieces I've learned as a result of these experiences."
Foreman, who had a cochlear implant in 2002, will be back at UC-Davis this fall. As she sees it, she brought to the NOAA lab in Oregon "a wealth of knowledge of molecular immunology," and in return, her own horizons were permanently expanded.
"I've learned a lot about fish and other marine organism immune system including other areas of marine biology, ecology and mathematic modeling systems which also apply to the human immune system studies," she said. "I've gained an extremely valuable experience in becoming an independent investigator and….now, I have a better understanding of the immune system and molecular biology in general."
Edward W. Lempinen
22 September 2004