Funding, Grants & Awards

Rochester Institute of Tech Grant Aims To Improve STEM Equity for Middle, High School Students

Edward Brown, associate professor of engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York, has been awarded a $25,000 grant for an initiative designed to increase the number of male African American students participating in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The initiative, called The Brashear Project, will expose middle- and high school-aged students to the field of engineering through design projects related to rehabilitation and assistive robotics, according to information from the university. Rehabilitation robotics is Brown's area of expertise, and he said he believes he can connect young African American males to the field through the issue of gun violence.

"The number 1 cause of spinal cord injuries for African American males, particularly between the ages of 15 and 30, is gun violence," said Brown, an associate professor of electrical and microelectronic engineering at RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering, in a prepared statement. "For every individual who dies due to a gun assault, there are between three and six others who are wounded. Many of those wounds result in the individual being paralyzed and permanently wheelchair-bound. These are the invisible men of inner city America, and there are large populations of these men in every major city."

Brown plans to organize meetings between student participants and African American males with spinal cord injuries from gun violence to provide the students with a social and cultural context for their engineering robot design activities. Brown will also work with the student participants to examine how careers in STEM fields can help individuals and communities.

"What would happen if I brought this experience of interpersonal gun violence — that happens to be culturally relevant and unique to this particular population — into the STEM classroom? How might that enhance their learning and appreciation of robotics and engineering as a whole?" said Brown in a prepared statement.

Brown will use the grant to "fund preliminary studies toward designing the learning objectives and hands-on activities for the project as well as recruiting participants," according to a news release from the university.

As part of his research, Brown studies how robotics can help people with physical disabilities perform everyday tasks such as opening a bottle or grasping a pen.

The Brashear Project is named after Carl Brashear, the United States Navy master chief who lost his leg during a demolition operation off the coast of Spain and then continued to serve in active duty. Brashear became the first African American master diver in 1954 and the first amputee to be re-certified as a Navy diver. Brown met Brashear during his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University and said he was inspired by the man's story.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].