Mount Lemmon Sky Center was busy this June hosting middle and high school students kicking off an exciting new initiative called Project POEM (Project-Based Learning Opportunities and Exploration of Mentorship for Students with Visual Impairments in STEM). This million-dollar project funded by NSF provides hands-on learning over 14 months to VI students and fosters mentor/mentee relationships with UA students majoring in STEM areas. While STEM fields such as astronomy can be highly visual in nature, they shouldn’t be considered inaccessible to blind or low-vision students, says Sunggye Hong, associate professor in Disability and Psychoeducational Studies. Hong is collaborating with UA’s Planetary Sciences and the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The students will continue to participate in a science curriculum that uses 3-D modeling.
People with visual impairments continue to be highly underrepresented in STEM. “Not a lot of visually impaired students are choosing STEM as their potential career area,” Hong says. “We wanted to work together to come up with some motivational, inspirational, scientific projects that increase the motivation of kids who are blind or visually impaired toward STEM.”