Matthew Bowers of Durham, Connecticut, a speech-language pathologist at ACES at Chase in Waterbury, has been named the Neag School of Education’s 2023 Rogers Educational Innovation Fund award winner.
Established by Neag School Professor Emeritus Vincent Rogers and his late wife, Chris, a lifelong teacher, the award provides $5,000 annually toward an innovative classroom project proposed by a Connecticut teacher at the elementary or middle-school level. The Rogers’ gift aims to support and expand the collaborative work of Connecticut’s schoolteachers and the Neag School of Education. This is the fourth year in which the award has been bestowed.
A Service Learning Project
In the proposal for the winning project, titled “Service Learning Through Assistive Technology Engineering,” Bowers outlines his hope of creating a class and curriculum that teaches hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) skills while teaching disability awareness and building empathy in young learners. He also hopes to provide free, customized adaptive equipment for students with disabilities from the Waterbury community.
The idea for the project was born from the union of several influences for Bowers: work experience, disability awareness, passion for assistive technology, and a lifelong, sincere belief that experiential service learning is the most meaningful and impactful type of education.
Bowers began volunteering as a child, tutoring younger children who were homeless, which shaped his sense of duty to help those in need. However, his most formative service learning experience came in college, where he participated in Boston College’s PULSE program, described as an “academic service-learning experience that helps undergraduates grow as human beings and learn how to work for a just society.”
“I truly admired how the program synthesized academic learning with hands-on service, deepening my sense of empathy while helping improve the lives of marginalized groups,” Bowers says. “After discovering my passion in speech-pathology and completing a master’s degree, I longed to create these opportunities for my students one day.”
“We were so impressed by the energy and creativity of [Bowers’] project and by the deep commitment he clearly has for his students, for teaching, and for making a difference.” — Todd Campbell, Neag School faculty member and chair of the 2023 Rogers Award selection committee
Thanks to the Rogers Educational Innovation Fund award, Bowers will be able to purchase and teach his students to use a 3D printer and supplies, developing their STEAM skills. The students will create 3D-printed versions of assistive technology, which their peers with disabilities will then be able to use in class. It is much cheaper to 3D-print the assistive equipment than purchase it, so the project will make the technology more accessible to students with disabilities.
This project, Bowers wrote in his proposal, “will help Chase students gain experience in the rapidly growing field of ‘Tech for Good,’ which uses technology to build life-changing solutions but will also allow their district-area disabled peers to receive free equipment to help them gain better access to academics and communications.”
The project will also connect Chase students with their peers with disabilities, providing a meaningful and memorable relationship between groups that do not always have opportunities to interact.
Positive Impact on Peers
Award applicants, in submitting their proposals this past fall, were asked to address such questions as “What is the teaching and learning problem that drives your proposed innovation?” and “What benefit will the proposed work have for the students in your classroom, school, or school district?” A committee of Neag School faculty reviewed the submissions based on these and several other questions.
“I’m excited to have students and staff from the Neag School observe and participate with the project, providing a unique opportunity to witness the intersection of tech education and service learning,” Bowers says. “This project could serve as a springboard to expand student-teacher participation in subsequent years.”
“Students of Matthew Bowers are lucky to have him as their teacher and, as citizens, we are incredibly fortunate to have him educating our next generation,” says Todd Campbell, department head of Curriculum and Instruction at the Neag School and chair of the 2023 Rogers Award selection committee.
“I’m excited to have students and staff from the Neag School observe and participate with the project, providing a unique opportunity to witness the intersection of tech education and service learning.” — Matthew Bowers, speech-language pathologist at ACES at Chase in Waterbury
“We were so impressed by the energy and creativity of his project and by the deep commitment he clearly has for his students, for teaching, and for making a difference,” Campbell says.
“Traditional methods of helping the less fortunate through indirect means, such as fundraisers, can feel abstract and distant for young learners,” Bowers says. “This project will allow students to directly connect with who they are helping, and in the process learn about the needs of their disabled peers and then see firsthand how their products make a positive impact.”
“I would like to thank the donor’s family for not only investing in the STEAM education of students at Chase but also helping instill in them the invaluable experience of building empathy through helping others grow and learn,” Bowers continues. “It is truly the gift that keeps on giving!”
Bowers will be formally recognized at the 2023 Neag School Alumni Awards Celebration next month. Read more about the Rogers Educational Innovation Fund at rogersfund.uconn.edu.