Beginnings: Preparing Autistic Students for the AI Workforce

Project: Research project

Project Details


The project aims to serve the national interest by addressing the shortage of talent in the emerging technology of artificial intelligence (AI) through reaching out to untapped populations, such as autistic STEM community college students. Autistic people often demonstrate a strong affinity for STEM; however, they suffer from an 80% unemployment rate due to social stigma and discrimination. Carnegie-Mellon University and Pennsylvania State University at University Park has assembled a team of experts to develop innovative pedagogical materials and scalable tools to teach AI technical skills through a "learning-by-doing" experience, teach crucial team collaboration and communication skills through AI-focused project-based learning, and facilitate autistic community college students to obtain AI-focused summer internships and increase their access to AI careers.The program will use a strengths-based approach to provide strategies and supports that allow individuals with autism to engage confidently, competently, and with a positive sense of self when navigating the complex and challenging social environment of the workplace. The project’s pedagogical innovations include the human factors and user interface design to support AI subject-matter experts, mentors, and teachers learning to teach autistic students. Special education experts in autism who specialize in teaching communication, social, and teaming skills will support project mentors in their day-to-day learning experiences. Online training will be employed to reach more autistic students and also make the online course materials available to community college teachers to offer this course at their own schools. This project will not only address the employment gap by establishing innovative pathways for autistic students to specialize in AI careers, but more importantly, debunk the harmful stereotypes and change the exclusionary norms that impact their employment. This project aligns with the NSF ExLENT Program, funded by the NSF TIP and EDU Directorates, as it seeks to support experiential learning opportunities for individuals from diverse professional and educational backgrounds to increase their interest in, and their access to, career pathways in emerging technology fields.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date10/1/239/30/25


  • National Science Foundation: $220,000.00


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