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Supporting STEM graduate students with dis/abilities: Opportunities for Universal Design for Learning

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Disability, Neurodivergence, and Sense of Belonging in STEM: Equity, Culture & Social Justice in Education Division Technical Session 5

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Paper Authors


D. C. Beardmore University of Colorado Boulder

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Mx. Beardmore is currently a PhD student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They study inclusive engineering education and construction engineering risk management. Their full bio and current and historical positionality statements can be found on their website at

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Robyn Sandekian University of Colorado Boulder

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Robyn Sandekian, PhD, is the Director of Faculty Advancement for the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder). In this role, Robyn has a key leadership role with responsibilities for identifying, implementing, and assessing outcomes of policies, programs, and procedures to meet CEAS goals for faculty recruiting, hiring, retention, and advancement including increasing faculty diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Dr. Sandekian earned degrees in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder (B.S. 1992/M.S. 1994), a Specialist in Education (Ed.S.) degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (2011), and a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership (2017), both from the University of Northern Colorado.

She is a Founding Leader of the American Society of Engineering Education Virtual Community of Practice for LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Engineering and a facilitator of Safe Zone training and participates in various activities of the ASEE Commission of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CDEI).

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Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She is also the Director for the Engineering Plus program, which is in the process of being renamed to Integrated Design Engineering. Bielefeldt also serves as the co-director for the Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning Integrated Research Theme (IRT) at CU. She has been a faculty member at CU since 1996, serving in various roles including Faculty Director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program (2014-2017), Director of the Environmental Engineering program (2006-2010), and ABET Assessment Coordinator for the CEAE Department (2008-2018). Bielefeldt is active in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), serving on the Civil Engineering Program Criteria Task Committee (2019-2022) and the Body of Knowledge 3 Task Committee (2016-2018). She is the Senior Editor for the International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering (IJSLE) and a Deputy Editor for the ASCE Journal of Civil Engineering Education. Her research focuses on engineering education, including ethics, social responsibility, sustainable engineering, and community engagement. Bielefeldt is also a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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While little is known about the enrollment and retention rates of STEM graduate students, studies indicate that the way higher education generally approaches STEM graduate programs overlooks and excludes individuals with dis/abilities. This research examines the experiences of STEM graduate students with non-apparent (also called “invisible”) dis/abilities as related through the lens of critical dis/ability theory. In this paper, we review the findings from the first phase of a larger study through the lens of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We used Harvey’s interview process to explore the experiences of two STEM graduate students who self-identify as having “invisible” dis/abilities or “different abilities” through a progressive series of interviews. In this paper, we review a selection of the participant’s experiences and provide recommendations on how UDL can be implemented to overcome the barriers graduate students may be facing in their coursework, research, and advising. We provide these recommendations in an effort to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all graduate students. Further, we hope that our research findings help individuals serving university students at any level in any discipline ask what opportunities they have to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment through the tenants of UDL.

Beardmore, D. C., & Sandekian, R., & Bielefeldt, A. (2022, August), Supporting STEM graduate students with dis/abilities: Opportunities for Universal Design for Learning Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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