Sheryl Burgstahler

DO-IT Scholars: Easing The Transition From High School To College

by Sheryl Burgstahler

Journal of Information, Technology and Disability, 1994

People with disabilities face unique barriers to education and employment. These barriers include lack of encouragement; underdeveloped self-determination and self-advocacy skills; little access to successful role models; social isolation; lack of awareness of and access to technology that can increase independence and productivity; and low expectations of family, teachers, counselors, service providers, and faculty. These conditions result in fewer high school students with disabilities attending colleges and universities than the number capable of college-level work, high drop-out rates, and under-representation of individuals with disabilities in careers that require college-level preparation. Individuals with disabilities are particularly underrepresented in science, engineering and college-level preparation.

The University of Washington has undertaken a project designed to recruit students with disabilities into science, engineering, and mathematics programs. The DO-IT Scholars Program, directed by Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler, helps participants increase their knowledge of science, engineering, and mathematics and gain prerequisite experience to enter these fields of study and employment. The National Science Foundation provides most of the financial support for DO-IT, which stands for “Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology.”

The DO-IT Scholars Program consists of three phases. New applicants must apply for admission to Phase I. Admission to phases II and III are based upon successful completion of previous phases and a desire to continue participation as a DO-IT Scholar.


Students accepted into Phase I participate in the following activities. Internetworking: DO-IT Scholars learn how to use computers to enrich their education and explore career opportunities through information access and communications with college students, faculty, and professionals, on the Internet network. Participants communicate electronically from home using computers, modems, software, Internet network connections, and, if necessary, special adaptive technology. Participants who do not have the required technology are loaned equipment and software for the duration of their participation as DO-IT Scholars. Previous experience working with computers is not required.

Mentoring: Through electronic communications, personal meetings, and joint projects using the Internet, DO-IT Scholars are brought together with mentors (college students, faculty, and practicing engineers and scientists, most with disabilities themselves), to facilitate academic, career, and personal achievements. Participants are matched with several mentors based on shared interests, however, communication with all mentors is encouraged.

Summer Study: During a two-week, live-in, summer program held on the Seattle campus of the University of Washington, DO-IT Scholars study science, engineering, and mathematics and are introduced to college dorm life and campus services. DO-IT Scholars participate in lectures and labs using computer applications, educational software, electronic mail, and resources on the Internet network. Subjects studied by 1993 participants include: oceanography; heart surgery; chemistry; virtual reality; adaptive technology; geophysics; material sciences, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering; mathematics; software training; biology; physics; astronomy; and climatology. Meals and housing are provided for participants and personal care attendants. Accommodations to facilitate a successful academic experience, such as interpreters for those with hearing impairments, are provided.

Other Activities: Throughout the year, DO-IT Scholars and mentors are invited to participate in science-related activities hosted by the University of Washington, corporations, and other organizations. 1993 events included University of Washington Computer and Health Sciences Fairs, lectures, the Westinghouse Science Competition, and a personal visit with Dr. Stephen Hawking.


Upon admission to Phase II of the DO-IT Scholars Program, participants apply their skills and knowledge to independent science projects and return the following year, to the UW campus, for a one-week summer program. Phase II participants also act as mentors to incoming DO-IT Scholars.

Individual Projects: Phase II DO-IT Scholars design and complete independent science projects based on their individual interests. DO-IT mentors and staff act as resources and provide assistance for participants in planning and completing projects. Individual projects currently pursued by 1993 Phase II participants include planning and organizing a tour of Batelle Pacific Laboratories; designing a computer-based CHAT system; working on virtual reality projects; evaluating software; and contributing to an electronic information service.

Summer Study: Phase II DO-IT Scholars return to the University of Washington campus during a one-week, live-in summer program. Participants are given the opportunity to develop knowledge, skills, and interests gained in the previous year by working on joint science projects with faculty and other professionals.

Mentoring: In addition to continuing their current mentor relationships, Phase II participants are given the opportunity to develop and practice communication and leadership skills by acting as peer mentors for Phase I participants, face-to-face during the summer study program and electronically.


DO-IT Scholars who complete phases I and II are eligible for Phase III which includes opportunities to contribute to the DO-IT program through activities agreed to by each participant and DO-IT staff. Specific mentoring responsibilities, scientific resource management, system administration, newsletter editing, working in the summer programs and other DO-IT sponsored events are several of the possible options.

The first group of Scholars began their work and participated in the campus summer program in 1993. They have continued to communicate with each other as well as the mentors, and they continue to access Internet resources throughout the year. They will return for their Phase II follow-up program this summer and will be joined by twenty new Phase I Scholars.

Students with disabilities in the Northwest region (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington), who have an interest in science, engineering, or mathematics as a career, are encouraged to apply during their Sophomore year of high school. Freshmen and Juniors are considered on a space-available basis. Previous experience working with computers is not required to enter the DO-IT program. A complete application consists of three forms:

  1. student application,
  2. recommendation from a high school teacher or administrator,
  3. parent/guardian recommendation and consent.

Personal interviews may also be required before final decisions are made. Applications are reviewed by Advisory Board members. Qualified applicants are selected for participation based on demonstrated interest and aptitude in science, mathematics, and engineering; motivation to participate in DO-IT Scholars; and predicted benefit from the program offerings. For further information or to request application materials in standard print, large print, Braille, or audio tape, contact:

DO-IT, University of Washington, JE-25, Seattle, WA 98195. PHONE: (206) 685-DO-IT FAX: 685-4045 EMAIL:

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Sheryl Burgstahler
Last updated: Feb 4, 1998