Oak Foundation has donated $700,000 to the UH Mānoa College of Education Center on Disability Studies to support students with learning differences to succeed in college. The award funds the development of innovative online modules to help faculty, staff and administrators improve their interactions with students with learning differences, as well as students who are indigenous such as Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, by reflecting on their current practices and shifting their attitudes to and awareness of their differences.
The award also seeks to help faculty, staff and administrators boost their knowledge of legal mandates and policies for accommodating such students and aims to increase their skills to support students with learning differences from diverse cultural backgrounds. Some of the ways they may achieve this is by creating a welcoming classroom for all students, applying Universal Design for Learning principles and utilizing technology tools and software in the classroom to reach all kinds of learners, bringing appropriate cultural relevance into teaching to reach indigenous students and demonstrating equity and equal opportunity across all students when teaching students with diverse needs.
Students with specific learning disabilities — and other neurodiverse students such as those with attention deficits, sensory processing disorders and executive function challenges — face multiple barriers to success in higher education. Students with learning differences from underrepresented communities, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, face additional obstacles to academic success.
Dr. Kiriko Takahashi, Interim Director, Center for Disability Studies said, “This large donation will help our Center revamp innovative, online modules, and give our future teachers, faculty, staff and administrators the foundational skills and effective strategies they need to engage and reach all individuals regardless of a students’ preferred learning, studying styles or cultural backgrounds.”
The Center on Disability Studies (CDS) promotes diverse abilities across the lifespan through interdisciplinary training, research, and service. CDS is one of the 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) across the United States, and is an interdisciplinary unit working across a range of university departments, research institutes, community agencies, consumer advocacy groups, and state departments.
Bethiel Girma Holton, Learning Differences programme officer, said, “Oak Foundation is proud to partner with the University of Hawaiʻi in its effort to think about students with learning differences, especially Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, holistically to increase their graduation rates and chances of success. By giving faculty the skills they need to teach and support these students who have been particularly affected by the challenges of remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, they are able to respond to each student’s unique talents and potential.”
UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno said, “This project is unique in that it will be implemented in one of the most diverse campus environments within the United States. Through this project, we hope to identify the strategies that are effective for students with learning differences who are also indigenous, impacting their access to, retention, and completion of higher education programs of study.” Bruno continued, “The pandemic impacted both instructors and students in many different ways. With this generous award from Oak Foundation, we can also assess the impact of the pandemic on learning and use of technology by students with learning differences and those from indigenous groups. Our findings will provide new insights and tools to help our students and educators succeed!”
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The University of Hawai‘i Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawai‘i System. The mission of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation is to unite donors’ passions with the University of Hawai‘i’s aspirations by raising philanthropic support and managing private investments to benefit UH, the people of Hawai‘i and our future generations. uhfoundation.org