Autistic youth can thrive as college students when they are accepted for who they are and encouraged to follow their interests and build on their strengths. However, little research has been conducted on how colleges nationwide can design and sustain learning environments that effectively support autistic undergraduates. While the number of autistic young people seeking college degrees continues to increase, universities are not prepared to harness the strengths and interests that autistic students can contribute to their campus communities.
In the Engaging Autistic STEM Undergraduates in Creating Supportive Learning Environments initiative, EDC, Sonoma State University, California State Universities at Chico and East Bay, and autistic STEM majors are collaborating to identify and address the needs of autistic STEM students within the California State University (CSU) system. The initiative seeks to empower autistic STEM majors enrolled on partner campuses to work with STEM faculty and student services staff to design campus programs and resources that improve the learning experiences of all students on the autism spectrum.
The project is carrying out the following activities:
- Conduct a study of the existing support landscape for autistic STEM undergraduates at three partner CSU campuses
- Identify gaps in available CSU campus programs from the perspective of autistic students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and make recommendations to fill these gaps
- Develop, implement, and evaluate pilot campus programs and experiences for autistic STEM students and professional development for faculty and staff
- Expand campus partnerships to additional universities by synthesizing recommendations based on findings from pilot program implementation
The initiative will have the following impacts:
- Findings will advance knowledge of strategies to fully involve autistic undergraduates in creating supportive learning environments, from design through implementation.
- The new resources developed will deepen autistic students’ engagement with their STEM fields, provide opportunities to develop and pursue their STEM career interests, and establish meaningful and lasting peer and mentor relationships.
Sonoma State University, in collaboration with California State Universities at Chico and East Bay