Last Updated: Mar 28th, 2013 - 15:54:01
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April Hill brings science to blind students

By Cliff Foster

April Hill, an assistant professor of chemistry, staged a workshop at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton recently to help raise interest in STEM education for visually impaired students.
During a science workshop this summer at the Colorado Center for the Blind, students mixed white glue, water and borax in a food storage bag to make a substance called a cross-linked polymer, or less formally, “slime.”

The experiment was a big hit—just what instructor April Hill was hoping.

Hill is an assistant chemistry professor who promotes science education to underrepresented students pursuing STEM fields at MSU Denver. As an extension of that work, she ran the workshop at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton and is planning more sessions there this year along with colleague Tom Vogt, assistant professor of chemistry.

“It’s all about showing blind students that they can do science and can do lab work,” she says. “It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people feel like being blind automatically eliminates science as a possibility for them.”

Hill’s work with visually impaired students began when she was a post-doctoral scholar at the Pennsylvania State University Center for Nanoscale Science. While there, she met a chemistry graduate student who is blind. “His passion for engaging blind youth in the sciences inspired me to pursue the same goal,” she says.

Together they ran several hands-on workshops and summer science camps, largely through collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind. Since joining MSU Denver in 2010, she has conducted a teacher workshop at a Colorado Department of Education State Conference on Blindness/Visual Impairment.

“If a blind student is going to a regular school, the teachers have no idea how to get them involved in a lab,” she says. “So typically they are paired with a sighted partner who does everything and just describes to them what’s going on—which is possibly the most boring way to do science.”

Hill is out to change that and encourage more blind students to consider science professions. The polymers workshop at the Colorado Center for the Blind represented a step in that direction.

“What we’re hoping to do is excite them about science and to show them there are ways they themselves can do experiments,” she says. “They don’t have to sit back and let someone else do them.”


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