This summer’s 10 participants came to UD from 10 institutions of
higher education. All are studying chemistry or a related discipline,
and many said they applied to the program as much for the supportive
community as for the research opportunities. They also said they had
experienced the social stigma of having a disability and the perception
from some people that they were limited academically.
“I need some assistance in the lab at times, but I didn’t want to
give up chemistry, and I thought it would be a good experience to meet
other students with disabilities,” said Dana Reigner of Arcadia
University, who had a brain injury three years ago that left the right
side of her body weaker than the left. “I’ve loved chemistry since
sophomore year of high school, and I want to continue to study it.”
For Bryce Lipinski, a senior majoring in chemistry at Siena College
and preparing to apply to graduate schools, the opportunity to get
laboratory research experience at a larger institution was key to his
decision to attend the UD summer program.
Lipinski has a decoding issue, a derivative of dyslexia, which makes
practices such as reading textbooks a more difficult and time-consuming
process. However, he said, focusing in organic chemistry — where the
structure and functions of molecules are often best described using
graphics instead of words — fits his skills exceptionally well. But
standardized exams, for example, are unlikely to give a true picture of
his knowledge and academic strengths.
“That’s where research programs like this are extremely important,”
he said. “Having this experience in the lab shows what I can do beyond a
grade on an exam.”
In addition to the hands-on research experience with faculty mentors,
students in the program also receive information and guidance on such
subjects as the graduate school application process, how much to
disclose about their disability and how to negotiate for accommodations.
And, participants said, they’ve also learned more about themselves and
others by working and socializing with one another.
“We hang out together, and it’s made me realize the different
challenges that we all face,” said Savannah Stark of Warren Wilson
College. “I think we’ve all experienced the stigma of having a
disability and the constant pressure of feeling like you have to prove
yourself — the feeling that if you make a mistake, people think it
reflects on everybody with a disability.”
More programs that focus on inclusion for students with disabilities
will go a long way to address the problems of stigma and stereotypes,
“It can be a vicious cycle, where people with disabilities are
underrepresented [in academic programs and especially in STEM], and so
there’s lack of role models and mentors for younger students,” he said.
“This individualized program is great for the participants, but more
needs to be done.”