Faculty and Staff

Enabling Greater Success for Autistic Students

Katie Todd
October 23, 2023
Dr. James Lawyer on a yellow graphic background holding up a certificate awarding him best paper at a conference.

Seidenberg professor James Lawler was awarded Best Conference Paper and Best Paper of the Innovative Education, Pedagogy and Teaching Track for "A Case Study for Enabling Autistic Students to Enter Best-of-Class Career Programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)", at the 59th Annual Meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS), in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on October 4-6.

The research entailed exploring how, despite a higher rate of inclusion of autistic students in post-secondary schools, the programs into which they are entering may not be enabling the students effectively. While the programs may be academically appropriate, only 34% of students with disabilities enter these programs, and of those, only 39% graduate. The statistics continue to decline further along the students' path—with only 15% of graduating students estimated to be employed in the five years following graduation.

Dr. Lawler proposed that autistic students can be better enabled for success and designed a model to support solutions beyond typical services.

The model includes focus on five constructs: accommodation for curricular in STEM, curricular focus in STEM, extra-curricular growth, health and mentoring services, and opportunities and recognitions. Each area includes a wealth of programmatic and support recommendations to improve the experience for students with autism in STEM programs.

Dr. Lawler has a longstanding history of research and project-based activity related to people with disabilities. He has created several programs and projects at Pace that focus on building better experiences for students. "Most of the Pace students engaging in the programs and projects are students without disabilities learning about those disadvantaged and with disabilities for the first time," he said.

"Programs are also engaging Pace undergraduate students in participating on projects with me with the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) of the City of New York, such as the Disability Film Festivals that we do at the university. We are fortunate moreover to be partnering with OASIS at Pace University and with Tech Kids Unlimited as we pursue new programs and projects in the fields of diversity and technology at the university."

The conference paper was also awarded competitively for funding by the Helene and Grant Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship of the university in 2022.

Additionally, the 10th Anniversary Celebration of People with Disabilities in Films Disability Film Festival at Pace University will be Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

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