Vol. 1, Issue 3 -- December-January, 1996

Robotics Feature Research

Our feature project in this issue of The Innovator deviates from traditional rehabilitation engineering research. In this undertaking the focus is on immediate application to people with disabilities. Dr. Ken Barner, Project Director, tells us about some of the work.

(Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Project)

Mentoring Program Goes On-line

by Ken Barner

The Internet is everywhere. Simply turn on the television or open up the newspaper and you are bound to hear about it. This popularity is no wonder when the power of computers doubles every 18 months and the number of Internet users, now at over 30 million, grows at 20% a year. So what do you do with all that power and connectivity? One answer is to connect people with similar interests. That is what the Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (SEM) mentoring program is doing.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the SEM mentoring program of the Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories (ASEL) pairs high school students who have disabilities and an interest in the Sciences with working scientists. The student/mentor pairs communicate, work on projects, and correspond with other student/mentor pairs over the Internet. This use of the Internet allows students and mentors from a large geographic area to participate and work together. Currently, the program has participants from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

In addition to allowing participation from a large geographic region, the Internet allows students and mentors to participate from any convenient location. Some students and mentors participate directly from their homes, while others participate from school or work. Essentially, participation is possible from any location with a computer and modem. For individuals interested in participation but who do not have the necessary equipment, the SEM project keeps a loan bank of equipment. Individuals participating in the program are able, depending on availability, to borrow equipment from this loan bank. Currently, the project is loaning equipment to approximately 20 participants.

The SEM project provides mentoring program participants training on use of the Internet and its many resources. The program makes heavy use of both e-mail and the World Wide Web (WWW). Students and mentors communicate directly to each other through e-mail. The project also has several e-mail lists allowing anyone to contact the entire group of participants, for example, to draw on the collective wisdom of the mentors. The WWW will be used to both gather and disseminate information. For instance, there is a student/mentor yearbook on the WWW with pictures of each participant as well as descriptions of their expertise and interests. Also, the SEM project maintains WWW pages focusing on the program aspects, education, and disability issues. This information is available through the WWW to all program participants, and in fact, to anyone in the world.

Use of the Internet allows students and mentors to participate in group projects as well as individual and pair projects. Initial projects include the Internet Pizza Challenge and Scientists Make a Difference. The Internet Pizza Challenge teaches WWW skills through a monthly contest in which participants must answer SEM related questions using the resources of the Internet - the best answers earn the winner a free pizza! Scientists Make a Difference is a collection of WWW pages constructed by student/mentor pairs detailing the lives and accomplishments of noted scientists. The Scientists Make a Difference pages constructed by each of the student/mentor pairs are going to be published in an Internet newsletter distributed to schools and classes around the world who are using the Internet. Future projects will reflect the SEM interests of the project participants.

For more information on how to become involved with the SEM mentoring program, as a student, mentor, or equipment donor, send e-mail to, see our WWW page at, or call ASEL at (302) 651-6830.

For more information, check out the SEM Home Page.