Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Kristin Bennett

Mary Gates Leadership Scholar, Winter 2024

Leadership Project: Providing Curricular-Based Professional Development in Identifying Accessibility Challenges in the Workplace and Building Communication and Support Skills for Disability in the Workplace

Project Description:  Despite the fact that 27% of Americans have a disability, only 3% of engineers have a disability. They experience higher unemployment rates, increased workplace harassment, and earn up to $45,000 less annually. Surprisingly, this trend persists despite companies reporting significant benefits, including up to a 200% increase in net earnings from hiring employees with disabilities. Additionally, it’s worth noting that 14% of college students are disabled, but only 8% of graduating engineers have a disability, indicating the presence of ableism in acadamia.

To address this issue, it’s important to educate young engineers on the benefits of diversity, the importance of ADA compliance, and effective communication strategies for inclusivity. This not only helps students with disabilities complete their engineering education but also fosters more inclusive work environments for their professional growth.

To tackle these challenges, I’ve developed a comprehensive two-part lecture series that fits into existing curriculum. This series includes interactive scenarios, practical assignments, accessibility assessments, and communication strategies to navigate workplace challenges effectively. Equipped with these tools, students can confidently handle microaggressions, engage in sensitive conversations, and know when to be effective allies. Future plans involve expanding this initiative beyond the Chemical Engineering department to reach students across various disciplines.

What have you learned throughout your leadership project?

I have designed and implemented curriculum changes, including writing and giving lectures, that span three-quarters of training for Chemical Engineering students. This has helped me, as a student with disabilities, feel like I am making a difference for others. I have also become more comfortable with presentations and can (almost) give a lecture without breaking a sweat.

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Step One: Believe in yourself. Step 2: Finding the right mentor. A great mentor is supportive, holds you accountable for work, and believes in your vision. Step 3: Planning and application. When planning your project, take the time to lay out your goals, how you will achieve them, how you will measure that achievement, timeline, and what future work will entail. Then let your passion for the project shine in your application.