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NSF grant helps students with learning disabilities thrive in STEM fields

NSF award to help students with learning disabilities thrive in STEM fields

A Warner School of Education faculty member at the University of Rochester is among the latest recipients of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The prestigious NSF award for promising junior faculty was awarded to Samantha Daley, assistant professor of education. Daley will receive $802,653 over the next five years to support the NSF’s vision of creating an inclusive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educational system and workforce in the United States.
The NSF career award will allow Daley to lead an integrated program of research and education that aims to broaden the participation and success of students with disabilities in advanced science coursework and STEM careers. Specifically, Daley will focus on the motivational beliefs of middle and high school students with learning disabilities, a largely neglected but likely powerful influence on whether a student decides to pursue science.

Despite the potential for academic and career success in STEM, students with learning disabilities participate in advanced science courses and pursue STEM occupations at a much lower rate than their peers. Daley points out that it’s important to understand the motivational dynamics at play for students who have traditionally struggled in general education science classrooms.
“Students with learning disabilities have not yet been involved in advanced coursework and the growing STEM fields to the fullest potential,” says Daley. “It’s an honor to have the National Science Foundation recognize and support these efforts to help broaden opportunities for all students by considering a wide range of factors shaping their academic and career choices.”
Daley’s research will take place in three phases and will include an educational plan that will benefit a diverse audience involved in widening the participation and persistence in STEM coursework and career progression for students with learning disabilities. In the first phase, national data will be analyzed to investigate the relationship between the motivational beliefs of high school students with learning disabilities and the subsequent pursuit of advanced science coursework and careers. In the second phase, a mixed-methods study with 80 middle school students with learning disabilities will investigate how science instructional experiences shape motivational beliefs. The third phase will focus on the teacher perspective, working with a group of experienced science educators to understand teachers’ perceptions of learning disabilities and to co-develop practical resources for use in science classrooms. 
The grant will also enable efforts to work with current and future science teachers to better support those working with students with disabilities. Additionally, results will be disseminated at national conferences and published in scholarly publications to help broaden the understanding of motivational dynamics that shape the pursuit of STEM courses and careers.  
Daley’s work focuses on creating emotionally supportive and inclusive learning environments for vulnerable learners and those with disabilities. A former special education teacher and learning disabilities specialist, she previously served as the director of research at CAST, a nonprofit education research and development organization. She has also been co-project director for a national center focused on using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to improve literacy achievement for middle school students with disabilities. In addition to the CAREER award and other NSF-funded grants, Daley has received financial support from the U.S. Department of Education, the Spencer Foundation, and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.
Her work has been published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Learning and Individual Differences, Mind, Brain, & Education, Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, British Journal of Educational Technology, and in various edited books. Daley’s academic training is in human development and psychology, and she works to span an understanding of human variability, educational psychology, and teaching and learning. She earned her doctoral and master’s degrees from Harvard University.
The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. The NSF established the CAREER program in 1995 to support early career development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become academic leaders of the 21st century. The highly competitive national program supports faculty members who most effectively integrate research and education in line with the mission of their institutions.