News: AAAS 2008 Annual Meeting News Blog
ENTRY POINT! Alumni Scientists and Engineers Share Strategies for Success
When Jennifer Walz was a biomedical engineering undergraduate at the City College of New York (CUNY), a professor told her that her disability -- epilepsy -- would prevent her from becoming a scientist.
“He told me I should be a housewife,” Walz said a 15 February 2008 luncheon at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
Walz ended up proving him wrong in 2007 by graduating Valedictorian from the CUNY Grove School of Engineering. She is now a doctoral student working at Columbia University’s Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing.
“I did not think I had a disability, but only that I had some challenges,” said Walz, who often wears sunglasses and has to adjust her work schedule to accommodate tiredness in the morning.
Walz spoke alongside six other ENTRY POINT! alumni at the luncheon filled with local high school students, sponsoring organizations, university administrators.
Erik Nordlof, a computer information systems student at Indiana University is profoundly deaf with a cochlear implant. Erik constantly surfs the technology net, relying on the video relay service (VRS) or remote real-time captioning to stay on top of information.
“Technology is like the wave of the future, and I learned to harness that wave like a surfer,” Nordlof said. Through the AAAS ENTRY POINT! program, Nordlof secured an internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2006 and Merck in 2007.
The ENTRY POINT! program is open to any full-time undergraduate or graduate STEM student with a disability. The program offers accepted scientists a paid, 10-week summer internship at a top research company or government research agency to match the scientist's desire for engaging work with the employer's need for an expanded pool of technical talent.
"ENTRY POINT! is flourishing due to the diversity of our students and the recognition of our partners in the public and private sectors who seek their talents," said Virginia Stern, director of the AAAS Project on Science, Technology and Disability and ENTRY POINT!.
The internships are also helpful because the employers are able to meet the students' needs for assistive technology and other accommodations. Mentors ands students involved in the program serve as ambassadors to the wider community.
“An organization benefits by using the collective learning from all of its employees and the diversity of their backgrounds,” said Jerry Kirby, a campus and corporate recruiter for longtime partner Lockheed Martin. “The population of scientists and engineers is rapidly shrinking, and organizations are going to need the best and the brightest to fill their ranks.”