Asee peer logo

Using Experiential Learning to Inspire, Educate, and Empower Underrepresented Undergraduates in STEM

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Pay It Forward: Critical Thinking, Reflection and Faculty Engagement Promote Success in Engineering

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1615.1 - 22.1615.18



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Mary R Goldberg University of Pittsburgh, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology

visit author page

Mary Goldberg, M.Ed. coordinates the Education and Outreach programs for the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh and the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center. Ms. Goldberg facilitates the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, a new initiative entitled ELeVATE to transition veterans with disabilities to higher education, and continuing education activities to name a few. Ms. Goldberg is pursuing a Ph.D. in Administration and Policy Studies in Education from the University of Pittsburgh investigating the outcomes of education and outreach programming.

visit author page


Rory A. Cooper University of Pittsburgh

visit author page

Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D. received the B.S. and M.Eng degrees in electrical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He received the Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Medicine & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence in Pittsburgh. He is also the Co-Director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, a joint effort between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

visit author page


Dan Ding University of Pittsburgh, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology

visit author page

Dan Ding, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology with secondary appointments in Bioengineering (BioE), and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Education Co-Director of the NSF Engineering Research Center on Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) since 2006, She also directs several training projects including the NSF REU program on QoLT, the Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Program under the Department of Education’s National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation, and a Long-Term Training Program on Rehabilitation Technology under the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Service Administration. Dr. Ding received her Ph.D. degree in mechanical and automation engineering from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2001. She had her postdoctoral training in rehabilitation engineering.

visit author page

author page

Alicia Koontz Human Engineering Research Laboratories

Download Paper |


Using Experiential Learning to Inspire, Educate, and Empower Underrepresented Undergraduates and Veterans Transitioning to Higher EducationThe vision of the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (QoLT ERC) is totransform the lives of people with reduced functional capabilities due to aging or disabilitythrough intelligent devices and systems. Through the ERC mechanism, a comprehensiveeducation and outreach program has been developed to inspire, educate, and empower students,especially those with disabilities. Through a well-established experiential learning initiative, theQoLT REU program, we have transformed students from dependent to independent thinkers,given them a sense of accomplishment and exposure to potential end-users, and providedexperience on a project that has a genuine fit to an ongoing ERC project. The benefits of thisprogram have resulted in personal gains of participants, an increased number of underrepresentedstudents in STEM graduate school programs, and the creation of a new program designed totransition veteran students with disabilities in to STEM education.The NSF funded Experiential Learning for Veterans in Assistive Technology and Engineering(ELeVATE) program will allow for active recruitment of veterans with disabilities in to STEM.The foundation created by the QoLT REU program which has followed social cognitive theoryand proven to not only increase students’ self-efficacy, but also confirm interest and engagementin engineering and technological disciplines through career exposure activities. Supplementaryworkshops have provided the necessary remediation to succeed in the program and beyond.New activities created for veteran students, especially with a focus on vocational andrehabilitation support, will prepare this population for their successful transition to college. TheREU mechanism which in addition to the aforementioned benefits, develops a support networkfor students, will be expanded through the academic year for the veteran participants. Studygroups, benefits assistance, and counseling opportunities will supplement the experientiallearning aspects of the program. The activities are designed to increase self-efficacy and outcomeexpectations which will encourage participants to apply to engineering programs. Once enrolled,support activities will help participants achieve their performance sub-goals and persist throughengineering degree programs which will ultimately result in enrolling in graduate school orobtaining an engineering career.Students are active participants and innovators in projects which address real-world problemswith systems-level engineering efforts, serving as a natural attractor to the discipline. Facilitatingthe programs collaboratively is in itself a best practice; it allows for an enhanced cohort, peer-to-peer mentoring, and maximization of resources for a sustainable training program designed toincrease the retention and promotion of underrepresented undergraduates in STEM disciplines.Though ELeVATE will only begin in the summer of 2011, its foundations are deep rooted in thesuccess of QoLT’s REU program which has advanced underrepresented students through theSTEM pipeline and delivered a promising model. Assessment efforts developed through theREU program will be adapted to evaluate this cohort with the goal of contributing towards thebodies of literature surrounding experiential learning, veterans in STEM education, and retentionand promotion of underrepresented students in STEM.

Goldberg, M. R., & Cooper, R. A., & Ding, D., & Koontz, A. (2011, June), Using Experiential Learning to Inspire, Educate, and Empower Underrepresented Undergraduates in STEM Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18451

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015