Our Research

Making Disability Visible in Higher Education Research: Addressing Quantitative, Qualitative, and Theoretical Limitations.

Despite the rapid increase in the number of college students with disabilities, higher education research has not systematically addressed the unique experiences of this rapidly growing population. As such, the literature about college students with disabilities is disproportionately small and substantively inadequate to serve as a foundation for effective higher education policy or practice. Between May 30 and June 1, 2018, seventeen disability scholars will convene for a conference titled: Making Disability Visible in Higher Education Research: Addressing Quantitative, Qualitative, and Theoretical Limitations.At this conference, interdisciplinary scholars from across the United States will: 1)  document the issues (and potential solutions for) the measurement challenges (qualitative, quantitative, theoretical) related to the study of college students with disabilities; 2) articulate a collaborative research agenda for disability in higher education that addresses quantitative, qualitative, and theoretical methodological challenges; and 3) develop and publish guidelines for the incorporation of Universal Design (UD) into research on college students. The conference will take place at the Whispering Pines Conference Center in Rhode Island

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Annemarie Vaccaro (University of Rhode Island) and Bradley Cox (Florida State University)

Funder: Spencer Foundation

Graduate and Professional Education for Students with Disabilities: Examining Access to STEM, Medical, and Legal Fields

This project addresses the underrepresentation of students with disabilities in graduate and professional education. Looking specifically at STEM, medical, and legal fields of study, this project examines how a) lack of affordability and b) positive aspirations for further education, may play a role in disproportionate access to graduate and professional education.

People with disabilities have been historically marginalized and consistently underrepresented at all levels of education. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in the 1970s changed the landscape for K-12 education, increasing access for many students. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, and since that time students with disabilities have entered postsecondary institutions at greater rates (United States Government Accountability Office, 2009). Recent estimates put the proportion of college students with disabilities at around 11% (Snyder & Dillow, 2013), but the rates are actually higher, given that these figures do not capture a significant number of students who do not disclose their disability status to their campus (Cawthon & Cole, 2010). With the increasing number of students with disabilities entering baccalaureate education, the next logical issue is to better understand how accessible graduate and professional education is for this underrepresented group.

Research on college students with disabilities is sparse at all levels (Kimball, Wells, Ostiguy, Manly & Lauterbach, 2016; Peña, 2014), but especially so for graduate and professional education. Education researchers know relatively little about the pipeline into and through post-baccalaureate education for this group. This research aims to add to knowledge in three specific areas of graduate and professional education that are of national importance, and in which evidence exists that students with disabilities are underrepresented: a) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), b) medical and health-related fields, and c) legal education.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ryan S. Wells

Funder: AccessLex and the Association for Institutional Research

Disability & Purpose

Now entering its dissemination phase, the Disability & Purpose project examined how students with disabilities selected majors and developed career aspirations while in college. Publications from this project have focused on: 1) the influence of disability status on identity development; 2) purpose development while in college; 3) activism and advocacy; 4) the sexual and gender  identity development; 5) the influence of social class on identity development; and 6) coping and resilience strategies. Forthcoming work from this project examines topics such as: 1) disability-based microaggressions; 2) the STEM career pathways of students with disabilities; and 3) the intersections of ableism, misogyny, and other forms of gender-based oppression.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Annemarie Vaccaro (University of Rhode Island), Barbara Newman (University of Rhode Island), Adam Moore (University of Rhode Island), and Peter Troiano (Central Connecticut State University)

Funder: NASPA Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education

Emotional Influences on Diagnostic Error in Emergency Medicine

An Experimental Approach to Understand Diagnostic Failure and Facilitate Improvement for Patients with and without Mental Illness: For this project, Center personnel serve as the qualitative methodologists for the study's initial phase of data collection. The qualitative data collection provides preliminary data designed to inform experiments that advance the project's overall goal of developing strategies that help reduce diagnostic errors resulting from faulty thinking processes based on affective pre-dispositions and experiences related to how physicians think about people with mental health conditions.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Principal Investigator: Linda Isbell (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Funder: US Department of Health & Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality


Currently in its data collection phase, the LGBTQIA+ in STEM study seeks to understand how college students who have at least minoritized gender or sexual identity and who are majoring in a STEM field make meaning of their experiences. More specifically, this study utilizes both qualitative interviews and focus groups to learn about the successes, challenges, supports, and barriers encountered by LGBTQIA+ students in STEM fields.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Annemarie Vaccaro (University of Rhode Island) and Ryan Miller (University of North Carolina Charlotte)

Funder: NASPA Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education

Decreasing Implicit Bias of Pre-Health Professionals Through Intergroup Dialogue

For this exploratory study, an interdisciplinary research team is developing and implementing an intergroup dialogue (IGD) intervention intended to decrease implicit bias among pre-health professionals. The project will result in the development of novel theory, program content, and experimental techniques for measuring the effect of IGD on undergraduate college students.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Louis Graham, Ximena Zuniga, and Kevin Goodman (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Funder: Health Promotion and Policy Faculty Seed Grant

Disability in STEM

The Disability in STEM study, which is now in its dissemination phase, sought to understand how student with disabilities experience STEM pathways in postsecondary learning environments. Products from this study include examinations of: 1) STEM aspirations and preparedness; 2) postsecondary STEM trajectories; 3) the development of positive STEM self-concept; 4) the influence of positive and negative faculty perceptions on student success; and 5) the influence of familial support.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ryan Wells and Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Alexandra Lauterbach (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Rachel Friedensen (Iowa State University)

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The Center for Student Success Research works with undergraduate students at the University of Massachusetts looking to gain research experience across different projects in higher education. Student researchers will utilize and develop such skills as reviewing and synthesizing key research articles, conducting quantitative and qualitative research, and analyzing data. Positions are finalized on a semester basis. If you are interested in participating in an undergraduate research project relating to one of the research areas, feel free to contact us.

Past Undergraduate Project: Cost of Disability

During the spring semester, our research team interviewed students with disabilities at a large public research institution in the northeastern United States. We sought to understand how students navigated the costs of having a disability in higher education, including financial, temporal, and interpersonal expenditures that were both formal and informal. Reilly and Meghan presented on this initial research at the 23rd Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference on Friday, April 27, 2017 and at the Northeastern Educational Research Association conference on October 18, 2017.

View Powerpoint slides of the presentation here.