Summer research leads to publication in professional journal

August 23, 2022

Psychology major Sophie Bittner ‘22 has always been passionate about using psychological science to promote the welfare of individuals and society. Her summer scholar research project, completed with her faculty advisor Professor Robert Weis, examined how college students access to academic accommodations has changed over time. The study was presented at two professional conferences and was recently published in the peer-reviewed professional journal Psychological Injury and Law.

Students with psychological conditions such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder may be entitled to accommodations in college to receive an equitable education. Accommodations can include additional time on exams, testing in a separate setting, and access to technology reduces barriers to learning that are often experienced by these students.

Bittner analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education to examine students’ access to accommodations over the past decade. She found that although access to accommodations increased over time, this increase was seen predominantly in America’s most expensive and private institutions. For example, accommodations increased by 162% at the eight Ivy League schools and 292% at the top eight liberal arts colleges identified by U.S. News & World Report. In contrast, students’ access to accommodations at most community and technical colleges remained low and stable over time.

“Our findings indicate that students with disabilities who are most in need of academic support are least likely to receive it,” Bittner says. “Social and economic factors should not hinder a student’s ability to obtain necessary accommodations.”

Bittner and Weis presented their information directly to people who work in university disability offices at professional conferences in Chicago and Cleveland. “I appreciated sharing this research with people who can relate to these issues,” she says. “Sharing our findings with people who can actually use this information to help students with disabilities was extremely rewarding.”

Bittner enjoyed the balance between mentorship and autonomy during her summer scholar experience. “My faculty advisor and I worked together through each step of the research process. I had the opportunity to complete each part of the project on my own and then received help and feedback from my advisor. This combination of freedom, structure, and support was really beneficial for my learning.”

“This project furthered my belief in the importance of psychological research. It helped solidify my plans to work as a research assistant after graduation and pursue an advanced degree in psychology in the future.”

Read the results of the study and other findings from the Denison Neuropsychology Lab.

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