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President’s Prize winner encourages all kinds of people to be included in STEM

Anna Voelker gives opening remarks at SciAccess, Ohio State’s first disability-oriented conference, on June 28, 2019. | Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State News

A former Ohio State astronomy student is spearheading a new STEM disability inclusion initiative with funding from the President’s Prize, an award given to graduating seniors to fund start-ups and living expenses. 

The project is aimed at making STEM programs and their faculty more equipped to properly teach Ohio State students with various disabilities. 

Anna Voelker, alumna and astronomy accessibility program coordinator, led Ohio State’s first conference working towards making science more accessible. 

Voelker received University President Michael V. Drake’s “President’s Prize,” an award described in an Ohio State press release as being endowed to individuals trying to make “the world a better place,” in 2018. The $100,000 award funded the efforts of “SciAccess,” an event primarily striving to create disability awareness in all aspects of Ohio State.

“We are here to start and engage in an important conversation in recognizing and working toward removing the barriers faced by students, professionals, researchers and members of the public who have disabilities both in academia and society at large,” Voelker said in her opening remarks at SciAccess.

According to the press release, SciAccess welcomed sign language interpreters for all sessions and had resources for deaf attendees as well. Everyone received color-coded badges indicating indicate conversational preferences, a method established by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

SciAccess featured the first female private space explorer, Anousheh Ansari, and Temple Grandin, autism spokesperson and professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, as keynote speakers.

“We all have one thing in common: a passion for equitable education and accessibility in the STEM field,” Voekler said during the SciAccess opening.

The press release stated Voekler’s project will run for a year, and her aim is to raise awareness about the diverse needs in a classroom, especially within STEM, while also creating more of an equal opportunity for those with disabilities. 

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