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Mending the Gap: An Intentional Focus on Integrating Underrepresented Minority and Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Students into the Research Culture (Experience)

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Reginald E. Rogers Jr. Rochester Institute of Technology (COE)

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Reginald Rogers is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the use of carbon nanomaterials for water treatment and sodium-ion battery applications. Dr. Rogers continues to work with underrepresented minority students though his roles as a partner affiliate with RIT’s Multicultural Center for Academic Success and advisor to the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Dr. Rogers has been recognized for his teaching, research, and service efforts through numerous invited seminars and awards. Notable awards include the 2015 Partner of the Year Award from RIT’s Multicultural Center for Academic Success, the 2016 Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from RIT, the 2017 Emerging Investigator designation from Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, the 2017 Henry C. McBay Outstanding Teacher Award from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, and the 2018 Dr. Janice A. Lumpkin Educator of the Year Award from the National Society of Black Engineers.

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Todd Pagano Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf

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Todd Pagano is the Associate Dean for Teaching & Scholarship Excellence and Professor of Chemistry at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) where he is responsible for oversight of NTID’s undergraduate research initiatives and has mentored over sixty Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing undergrads in his own scientific research projects. He was the founding director of the Laboratory Science Technology program at NTID; a unique degree granting program for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing students. In this role he led the design and implementation of the LST program, set-up a state-of-the-art instrumentation laboratory, architected the new degree program, and helped to place a large number of Deaf/HH individuals into careers in the chemical sciences. For his advocacy for diversifying STEM fields, Dr. Pagano has been honored as a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Stanley C. Israel Award, the ACS/Dreyfus Foundation’s National Award: Encouraging Underrepresented Students into the Chemical Sciences, and U.S. Professor of the Year Award by Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

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The excitement of completing a research experience focuses on translating information learned in the classroom to systems that could be encountered in the real-world. Actively engaging and enhancing the educational experience of underrepresented students, including Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) students, through involvement in unique undergraduate research experiences continues to pose challenges at the post-secondary institutions. Many underrepresented minorities and D/HH students often do not know where to go in order to engage in research activities. The truth of the matter is that they can be reluctant to approach professors because “they don’t look or communicate like them”…something heard time and again. This mindset can deter anyone from these two groups from pursuing activities such as research. To counter such impeding feelings and break down barriers that cause these students to feel isolated, faculty members have actively recruited these students into the lab in order to give them a glimpse of this world once thought to be closed off to them. Painting a picture of possibilities entices both underrepresented minority and D/HH students to want to try their hands at research.

In this experience report, we will show how a major university, composed of a large underrepresented minority and D/HH population, has a lively undergraduate research environment that is driven by the faculty and supported by the administration. It boasts a large annual symposium where undergraduates can showcase the fruits of their research (including one specifically for D/HH students). In addition to institute funds for student researcher stipends; supplies; and conference travel, the university has grants from NIH, NSF, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation to specifically support minority and D/HH students in research projects. Each of these support mechanisms has helped this group make tremendous strides in boosting their self-confidence, feel a sense of community, increase the likelihood that they pursue graduate degrees, and assist them in becoming more encultured into their professional fields. We have found that it is important to get to know the students and strategically coach and mentor the students while teaching them, in a stepwise manner, how research works. Designing projects that have achievable checkpoints helps students progress through the research and helps to prevent them from getting frustrated or lost in the project, or withdrawing from the activity altogether. Through perseverance and continued encouragement from the faculty member, these students often achieve a level of success where the work they complete is featured in a publication or conference presentation. This reward leads these students to engage on a deeper level and ask questions pertaining to being successful in graduate school— which helps to combat the “leaking pipeline” for these students in obtaining graduate degrees and entering quality careers. And in effect, these students encourage other underrepresented minority and D/HH students to engage in research activities— bringing the initiative full circle.

Rogers, R. E., & Pagano, T. (2018, June), Mending the Gap: An Intentional Focus on Integrating Underrepresented Minority and Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Students into the Research Culture (Experience) Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30805

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