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Cary Supalo

Research Scientist
Department of Chemistry at Purdue University
Cary Supalo | Chercheur scientifique
Cary Supalo | Chercheur scientifique
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Cary Supalo is a research scientist for the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Boilingbrook, Illinois, USA

I now live in: West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

I completed my training/education at: Pennsylvania State University 

President and founder of: Independence Science.

What I do at work

My daily routine is almost never the same. I work with undergraduate and graduate students on a daily basis. We work on a variety of chemical education research projects. These projects allow students with visual impairments to participate in a hands-on way in laboratory classes. Traditionally students who are blind are simply partnered with other students. These students act as the eyes for the blind student. This limits their participation to that of data recorder or note taker. The partnering with seeing students allows the visually impaired student to complete all course requirements. However, we have found that this limited role does not often inspire the blind student to pursue a career path in science.

Our work seeks to develop new access technologies that consist of talking and audible laboratory interfaces. It is these interfaces, combined with modified laboratory procedures, which can more fully integrate the blind into the STEM learning experience. Educational research has shown students learn best by doing. Our research has also found this to be true for the blind. It is our mission to make new access technologies that can unlock doors of opportunity for the blind in science laboratory classes. It makes practical sense for students with disabilities to be fully integrated into the science laboratory learning experience. This under-represented population has to solve problems every day to overcome physical limitations. Therefore, it makes sense to include the blind and the disabled into the STEM workforce. Our work is helping to build equity and thus promoting a more inclusive STEM workforce.

My career path is

When I was approaching the end of my graduate studies, I decided to create the for profit company Independence Science. This company provides talking and audible laboratory tools for the blind. Usually graduate work leads to a publication and not much more. I wanted this sustainable technology to benefit blind persons around the world. This was an unexpected turn, but it has paid off a great deal for both me and for the students that we serve. Additionally, I completed my Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University in 2010. It is this training along with quality blindness skills training I received at Blindness Learning in New Dimensions Inc. in Minneapolis, Minnesota that has helped me to be a competent blind person. It has also assisted me in all of my job interviews I have engaged in to date. The specialized training I received from blind instructors has helped me to be the successfully employed blind person I have evolved to be.

I am motivated by

I enjoy receiving feedback from parents as to how their son or daughter’s life has changed as a result of my work. Hearing how they took an interest in a science related field motivates me to keep working on new technologies for the blind. It is this work that I feel advances opportunities for the blind that motivates me to keep going. Through this inclusion in the STEM workforce that my work promotes, I feel can inspire current and future generations of blind students to consider career paths in STEM. I realize there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to make more aspects of science more accessible to the blind. Through my extensive partnerships with other organizations both in the education technology and academic areas, more opportunities will present themselves to the blind as my work progresses.

How I affect people’s lives

As a totally blind chemistry research scientist, I find my work empowers current and future generations of blind students to realize they can be engaged in a hands-on way in the science laboratory classroom. It is this engagement that I feel promotes a more fulfilling hands-on learning experience for the student with a visual impairment.

Outside of work I

I spend a great deal of time working with the National Federation of the Blind. This is the largest consumer organization of blind people in the United States. I work with them to promote science learning programming. As a volunteer I am always happy to share my experiences and expertise with the blind of the United States and the world.

My advice to others

My advice would be to not get discouraged by physical challenges that are presented to you. If science was an easy profession, then everyone would be doing it. Follow your passion. If that passion is in science, then go for it.

I am indigenous

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Foreign Languages
  • History
  • Literature and English language arts
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Brought people together
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Liked helping people
  • Was motivated by success
  • Wanted to be in charge
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Was really creative

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