Science Faculty Spotlight: Kristen Gillespie-Lynch
Dr. Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, is conducting innovative research aimed at transforming pedagogical practices to better support neurodivergent students (e,g., autistic students, students with ADHD, etc). Rather than becoming the visionaries and transformers of society that they could become, many autistic people are unemployed and isolated. Dr. Gillespie-Lynch and her collaborators recently received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) grant to conduct a three-year study which aims to empower autistic teenagers to seek out careers that are well-matched with their strengths and interests. This grant, totaling around a million dollars, is a collaboration between CUNY (lead institution), the Ability Project at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and an award-winning, non-profit, informal education program, Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU). This research project is participatory, meaning that autistic students and scholars have played and will continue to play a leading role in developing the research design and disseminating findings.
Starting in the Summer of 2021, Dr. Gillespie-Lynch and collaborators will invite ethnically and racially diverse autistic teenagers to participate in a free game design workshop hosted by TKU. During each workshop, teenagers will rate instructional practices using a survey developed in collaboration with autistic people. We expect autistic teenagers who have difficulty focusing to be most engaged by teaching strategies that include multiple types of information (for example, pictures, text, and speech). We expect students with more focused attentional styles to be most engaged by teaching strategies with fewer sources of information. After developing strategies to better match pedagogical practices to students’ learning preferences, we will use these strategies to promote student success in a week-long STEM internship. By developing clear guidelines to help educators and job coaches match their teaching styles to how different students learn, we can help autistic students develop the confidence needed to attain their dream jobs while helping teachers and employers support youth more effectively.
This project builds on Dr. Gillespie-Lynch’s other participatory research initiatives, including a participatory mentorship program for neurodivergent students at CSI: Project REACH and a faculty training to help faculty better understand autism and use the principles of Universal Design to support all their students which highlights the perspectives of autistic students and scholars.