Our Research

To learn more about the resulting research from these projects, please visit our Scholarworks page.

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

Examining Collective Impact in a Community-University Partnership to Broaden Girls’ Participation in Science from Middle School to High School Graduation

Research on broadening students’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) typically focuses on individuals’ experiences in STEM or on specific learning contexts (schools, colleges, or universities). Far less research has taken an organizational approach to examine structures and communication practices within and between organizations that reduce barriers and enhance opportunities as students navigate through institutions and transition from one institution to another during their educational journey. Research on collaborative infrastructure that brings people and organizations together who otherwise work in isolation provides a way to identify effective communication practices and organizational structure that can be replicated and scaled at other sites in order to promote student recruitment, retention, and success in STEM during key transition periods in development. To that end, our proposed project will shed light on a multi-organization research-practitioner collaboration in Western Massachusetts between an informal learning community organization with a large public research university and local schools; STEM internship organizations in Western Massachusetts; local colleges; participating adolescents and their families; and Girls Inc. National that collectively work on a program called “Eureka.” Eureka has successfully enhanced girls’ engagement and success in science as they transition from middle school to high school and beyond in economically underserved communities.

Center for Student Success Research Leads: Ezekiel Kimball, Chrystal George Mwangi, Ryan Wells

Collaborators: Nilanjana Dasgupta, Mark Pachucki

Funder: National Science Foundation

Examining the Experiences of Students with Disabilities In Massachusetts

Using a multi-site case study, this research project looks at the college-going and within-college experiences for students with disabilities, particularly students with intellectual disabilities, across the state of Massachusetts. We are currently conducting research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Worcester State University, and Bridgewater State University.

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

Collaborators: Bethany Lisi, Ashley Woodman, Jordan Abbott, Hanni Thoma, Genia Bettencourt, Alexandra Lauterbach, Jeff Edelstein, Ben Ostiguy-Finneran, and Jonique Childs

Funder: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

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

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

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

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 (St. Cloud State University)

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: Ximena Zuniga, Kevin Goodman

Funder: Health Promotion and Policy Faculty Seed Grant


This project is a partnership with the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) program housed in the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst that examines student learning through interdisciplinary honors program focused on problems of practice. The three-year collaboration includes a qualitative grounded theory study of the program, a mixed methods survey design, and analysis of longitudinal learning outcomes. To learn more about iCons, visit their website: http://icons.cns.umass.edu/

Center for Student Success Research Leads: Ryan Wells, Genia Bettencourt, Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Scott Auerbach, Justin Fermann