Educational Research

Engaging neurodiverse students in the research lab & teaching high school students about sustainable materials Visit Archived Education Projects

Our education research focuses on efforts to attract and retain a more diverse body of students to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We have a new project focused on integrating neurodiverse students in the research lab, and a continuing project on teaching high school students about sustainable materials through a 2-week long short course. For more details, click on the links below!

Engaging Neurodiverse Students in the Research Lab

“People with unique minds have asked novel questions and solved significant problems in the past, and they will continue to do so in the future – but only if we help them excel.” Collin Diedrich

Beginning in 2021, we will initiate a REU-like program to integrate autistic college students into the research lab over the summers. The focus on autism is in response to recent studies that have shown that autistic college students are disproportionately gravitating towards STEM degrees (34%), at rates that even exceed the general population (23%). Yet few of these students transition to doctoral programs, in part because they face significant challenges when integrating into the more social and collaborative research environment. If we want to diversify the scientific workforce, we need to create research environments that enable autistic students to succeed. Surprisingly little is known about how to support autistic individuals in STEM research. As such, we will adapt techniques that have been successfully used to transition autistic college graduates into the workforce.

Michigan Math & Science Scholars (MMSS) Program

This annual two-week summer camp serves to provide high school students with foundational skills in science and encourage them to pursue higher education in STEM fields. Our course focuses on topics within polymer science while providing the students with fundamentals of organic chemistry. Specifically, the focus is on sustainable polymers, ranging from understanding the environmental impact of polymers as well as methods for making more sustainable materials. The lab activities are designed to include experiments designed by the students, allowing them to formulate and test hypotheses based-off results obtained from previous experiments. These trials simulated what a “real” research lab workflow is like. Additionally, we include short field trips to demonstrate how the polymers they used in lab (e.g., polylactic acid) are found in real applications (e.g., 3D printing). We also include a creative project in the course, where students work in small groups to research and then create a stop-motion film to present to the class and post on YouTube. The structure of course gives them the tools to learn fundamental lab skills and the opportunity to independently learn more about specific areas that were of high interest to them. To keep with the program’s mission and encourage these student to continue to cultivate their scientific interests in the future, we include an undergraduate panel to discuss how to select, apply, and thrive in college. Additionally, there are many opportunities for the students to informally discuss their inquiries with the course instructors. The course is typically met with positive feedback from the students. Ongoing assessments are being used to evaluate student learning and course impact on their career aspirations.