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News Release 12-089

White House Highlights STEM Innovators in the Disability Community as "Champions of Change"

Among the 14 individuals recognized are six innovators supported by the National Science Foundation

Photo of the White House.

Six of the 14 "Champions of Change" have support from NSF.

May 7, 2012

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Today at 1:30 p.m.(ET)  the White House will honor 14 individuals as Champions of Change for leading the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for people with disabilities in education and employment.

Of the 14, six of these leaders have received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The nature of their work ranges from making science museum exhibits more inclusive to visitors, to developing new ways for students with disabilities to develop career skills, to creating technologies to enable learning for all, to developing a summer Chemistry Camp for blind students.

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

Today's recognition event is being webcast. To watch this event live, visit the White House website at 1:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time) today.

More information on the NSF-funded awardees appears below.

As a professional and a parent, Virginia Stern has been working for more than four decades to raise expectations of persons with disabilities, their families, educators, and employers, especially employers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since 1977 she was a guiding force of the Project on Science, Technology and Disability of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She recognized that talented students with disabilities needed more than legislation and STEM degrees to gain employment in their chosen fields. In 1996 Mrs. Stern and her colleagues developed the flagship program, Entry Point! to provide paid internships and develop career skills in the private and public sectors for students with disabilities in STEM. Hundreds of Entry Point! alumni have joined and continue to advance in the STEM workforce of the nation. She has NSF support currently and has also been NSF-funded in earlier projects.

David H. Rose, Ed.D., is a developmental neuropsychologist and educator whose primary focus is on the development of new technologies for learning. In 1984, Dr. Rose co-founded CAST, a not-for-profit research and development organization whose mission is to improve education, for all learners, through universal design for learning (UDL). Dr. Rose also teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education where he has been on the faculty for more than 25 years. He is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on UDL, and the winner of awards from the Smithsonian Museum, the Tech Museum, and others. NSF has supported his work on UDL.

Christine Reich is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Museum of Science, Boston, one of the world's largest science centers. The Museum of Science brings science, technology, engineering, and math to about 1.5 million visitors a year through its dynamic programs and interactive exhibits. As Director of Research and Evaluation, Christine oversees a department that conducts research and evaluation studies related to various aspects of the Museum experience, but her passion and expertise focus on researching ways to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in museum learning. Prior to her current position, Christine worked as a museum educator and an exhibit planner, specializing in the development of museums exhibitions and programs that are inclusive of people with disabilities. Her project, Creating Museum Media for Everyone, is NSF-funded.

George Kerscher began his IT innovations in 1987 and coined the term "print disabled." George is dedicated to developing technologies that make information not only accessible, but also fully functional in the hands of persons who are blind or who have a print disability. He believes properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people and is working to push evolving technologies in this direction. As Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium and President of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), Kerscher is a recognized international leader in document access. In addition, Kerscher is the Senior Officer of Accessible Technology at Learning Ally in the USA. He chairs the DAISY/NISO Standards committee, and serves on the USA National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Board. Kerscher has been supported by NSF for his work on Computerized Books for the Print-disabled Science and Mathematics Students.

Maria Dolores Cimini, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director for Prevention and Program Evaluation at the University at Albany Counseling Center and has served as the Principal Investigator for over six million dollars in behavioral health projects funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Department of Education during the past decade. As a scientist-practitioner, Dr. Cimini has been active in promoting access to STEM for students with disabilities, particularly young women with disabilities, through her work with the American Psychological Association's Women with Disabilities in STEM Education Project for which she serves as Co-Chair and her mentoring of students and early career scientists on a national scale. Through her own experience as a scientist with a disability, she is helping our nation identify and enhance facilitators and address barriers to STEM education and career success for people with disabilities. Dr. Cimini is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work in enhancing access to the STEM disciplines by students with disabilities through her research, leadership, and mentoring efforts. She has received NSF funding through the Women with Disabilities in STEM Education Research Agenda Development Project.

Henry Wedler is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others, Henry gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people. Henry is not only following his own passion; he is working hard to develop the next generation of scientists by founding and teaching at an annual chemistry camp for blind and low-vision high school students. Chemistry Camp demonstrates to these students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing fulfilling careers in science. "Most students came to us thinking that chemistry was a visual inaccessible subject and left understanding that they could study chemistry just as effectively as anyone else with the proper assistance and mindset," noted Wedler in his activity report about the project. Henry was nominated by Douglas Sprei of Learning Ally, a nonprofit that produces accessible audio textbooks for blind and learning disabled students, which is an indispensable resource that allowed him to excel in school. Wedler has NSF funding through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program Henry is looking forward to continue working with the NSF to contribute to both the chemical and blindness communities.

"NSF has long had a commitment to making STEM learning available to people with disabilities," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director for NSF's directorate for Education and Human Resources. "We are pleased that these six individuals--all of whom have been supported to advance the progress of people with disabilities in STEM--are being recognized for their outstanding work."


Media Contacts
Maria C. Zacharias, NSF, (703) 292-8454, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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