Connecting Students with Autism to Geographic Information Science & Technology Careers
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are less likely to start or graduate from a postsecondary educational training program than their peers. Additionally, they are routinely unemployed (or underemployed) as young adults. Consequently, there is an urgent need to create workforce development models that advance ASD students toward viable education and career paths. This project is a three-year project that will motivate and prepare high school students with ASD to enter postsecondary educational training programs and careers in geospatial and data science sectors. Example careers include: surveyor, cartographer, GIS technician, geospatial analyst, Geographic Information Science (GIS) software engineer, GIS project manager, intelligence analyst, remote sensing scientist, and unmanned aerial vehicle operator. The program's goal is to develop an innovative, research-based workforce development model that increases student self-regulation, interest, and motivation and expands students' understanding of Geographic Information Science and workforce development Technology (GIST). The research aim of this project is to generate knowledge about how the design elements of a model intersect with self-regulation constructs among high school students with ASD in face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning contexts. The project will advance the research in the field by facilitating insight into theoretical constructs around self-regulation and connecting conceptual ideas to best STEM education practices for youth with ASD. The project will recruit three cohorts of students (80 total) over three years from the Durham Public Schools district near the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina. Research efforts will investigate self-regulation among students with ASD in online and hybrid learning settings using a mixed-methods (pre/post surveys, semi-structured interviews, and qualitative observations) approach. Furthermore, the project will utilize a strengths-based approach to enrich STEM education and leverage traits commonly documented among individuals who have the disability. The project will infuse evidence-based practices into GIST-focused distance and hybrid education experiences to investigate self-regulation constructs among the ASD student population. The results will present factors that aid or inhibit student gains while gearing young people toward growing GIST careers. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.