SUNY Oswego assistant professor Zachary Gold's new research project will study play and early engineering skills in children with disabilities, in collaboration with the Children’s Museum of Oswego (CMOO)

The research, supported by the Shineman Endowed Fund, is an important step in Gold’s program of study on play and learning in early childhood. A leader in his field, he hopes to show just how important play and facilities like CMOO are to children with disabilities.

Human development

Gold is a human development professor at SUNY Oswego who was passionate about coming back to the SUNY system after graduating from SUNY Geneseo. After spending years studying and researching at other institutions, Gold is placing roots in Oswego to further his important research program.

“Human development reflects who we are within the context of our environment,” Gold said. “It is how we understand behavior across the lifespan and how that is influenced by our surroundings –- not just understanding behavior in isolation, but behavior as influenced by family, community, culture and the generation in which we live.”

Play research at SUNY Oswego

Gold’s research project –- "University-Community Partnership for Inclusive STEM Learning for Children with Disabilities" –- will not only feature a partnership with CMOO, but will also include a large team of collaborators and student participants from campus.

Collaborators include Carol Willard from SUNY Oswego's Curriculum and Instruction Department, Nina Howe from Concordia University, Chenyi Zhang from Georgia State University and Hoda Ehsan from the Hill School in Pennsylvania. Undergraduate research assistants will assist with data collection, evaluation, and presentation of findings. 

At the heart of this project is observing children with disabilities’ play and engineering skills utilizing CMOO’s custom-made water table. This water table provides a unique play experience to children while also affording an inclusive learning context. Gold’s research will be used to dig deeper into relations between play-based engineering and children’s academic achievement –- specifically, whether children with disabilities share similarities with typically developing children. 

“While children without disabilities typically perform differently on school achievement tests for domains like math and spatial skills, there isn’t that much difference in engineering,” Gold said. “When you look at whether engineering skills are related to school success, those associations are a lot stronger for children with disabilities, and that’s really intriguing because what that says is maybe there is some potential to support that kind of growth.”

Working with the Children's Museum of Oswego

An essential part of making this research happen is Gold’s partnership with the Children’s Museum of Oswego. After beginning his career at SUNY Oswego, Gold connected with CMOO immediately to create the long-lasting partnership that Kathryn Watson, CMOO’s executive director, says has been invaluable.

“We are really grateful for Zack,” Watson said. “He comes here with such a wealth of knowledge and experience and to have someone who is doing research that benefits us all, believes in our mission and our core values as an organization? We are so lucky to have him.”

CMOO began in 2013 as a mobile space before becoming a permanent installation in 2019 at West First and Bridge streets in downtown Oswego. Even during the pandemic, approximately 24,000 people visited the museum last year to play and see what the museum has to offer. The museum is fully Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant and accessible, and also employs SUNY Oswego students, mostly education and human development majors, for a rich experience in their field of study. 

“Accessibility is one of CMOO’s core motivations and core values,” Watson said. “Getting this research and putting this exhibit to the test will allow us to see where we can be doing better.”

About the Shineman Endowed Fund

The Richard S. Shineman Foundation celebrates and proudly takes an active role in reviewing grant proposals from around the SUNY Oswego campus for the Shineman Endowed Fund.

As the 233,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation prepared to open its doors, the foundation made its first -- and still its largest -- commitment of $4 million in 2012 to establish an endowment to benefit the college. Coupled with another, immediate $1 million gift from Barbara P. Shineman, the donation to the Oswego College Foundation was, at the time, the largest SUNY Oswego had ever received.

The Shineman Foundation began making quarterly payments of $100,000 in 2013. To date, $4.2 million has been paid into the endowment. The value of the fund has grown to $7 million.

Goals included establishing the flexible pool of funding now known as the Shineman Endowed Fund to support collaborative educational and cultural opportunities that benefit the Oswego community, brought forward by SUNY Oswego professors and department chairs.