Blind and visually impaired students from around the state of Michigan explored the galaxy at a unique weeklong career exploration lab (CEL) held recently at LARA’s Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) Training Center in Kalamazoo. Offered under BSBP’s Pre-Employment Transition Services, the program featured a NASA engineer, and scientist presenters who introduced astronomy concepts to the students utilizing 3D technology and tactile graphs.
“This was an invaluable experience that gave our students an early start in identifying career interests in the sciences,” said BSBP Director Bill Robinson. “The program also provided us with a greater understanding of how to better serve the STEM educational needs of our students.”
BSBP is only one of two vocational rehabilitation agencies in the nation to have worked with NASA on offering the career exploration lab. The CELs are being implemented around the country for blind and visually impaired students as part of a research study aimed at how to better assist high school students with blindness/visual impairments, and their teachers, as they learn STEM subjects and potentially pursue a STEM career.
These CELs use a student-centered, hands-on approach, 3D printing technologies, and 3D printed models to teach a variety of astronomy topics that target the spatial thinking skills of students with blindness/visual impairments.
Featured speaker Ken Silberman, NASA engineer and registered patent attorney, spoke about his personal experiences as a blind student pursuing a STEM education and career. Classes were taught by scientists.
Dr. Thomas Madura, assistant professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, San Jose’ State University, who spearheaded the project, and Dr. David Hurd, professor of Geosciences and Planetarium director at Edinboro, University of Pennsylvania, provided multiple NASA Braille and tactile publications used in the training.
Additional scientists presenting were Dr. Carol Christian, Hubble Space Telescope Outreach Project scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD; and Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced, astronomer and computer scientist. Students also visited the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and its planetarium.
The BSBP Transition Program helps students age 14 – 26 successfully transition from high school to postsecondary education or employment based on the student’s goal. Pre-employment transition services are provided in collaboration with local educational agencies and community partners.
The program includes five pre-employment transition service categories: job exploration counseling; work-based learning; postsecondary exploration; workplace readiness training, including social skills and independent living; and self-advocacy instruction.
BSBP provides training and other services for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to achieve employment and/or independence in the careers of their choice.