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ASU secures grant to train teachers in STEM subjects

ASU secures grant to train teachers in STEM subjects

Above: Photo courtesy of Unsplash

There is no deficit of news about Arizona’s teacher shortage and the crisis schools are facing. Hiring educators that meet school districts’ specific needs make the talent pool even smaller. This is especially true when it comes to finding teachers trained in science, technology, engineering and math — subjects that are vital for Arizona’s elementary, middle school and high school students as they prepare for 21st-century jobs and careers.

According to Pamela Harris, assistant clinical professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the challenge is real and the need is great, particularly in the Pendergast and Tolleson school districts in west Phoenix, Arizona.

Harris is the principal investigator for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, a new initiative funded by the National Science Foundation and awarded to Arizona State University to recruit and prepare highly effective elementary and secondary science and mathematics teachers for high-need local schools.

“Pendergast School District has one of the most extreme shortages in math and science,” she says. “When they couldn’t hire enough math and science teachers for their middle grades, they actually hired certified teachers from the Philippines through a guest worker program.”

Although these teachers are filling vacant positions, they are unable to serve as qualified mentor teachers for pre-service teachers as their commitment is only two years, further creating a void of experienced teachers in math and science.

The main objective of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program is to recruit people who are passionate about math and science content and encourage teachers to stay three years or more. This would reverse the trend of nearly half of Arizona teachers leaving the profession within the first two years. The third year is the pivotal year for Arizona teachers to create a career with leadership in mind. It is also when they can become mentor teachers and aid in growing the next generation of math and science teachers.

A collaboration between education and engineering

The grant abstract for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, penned by Harris and co-principal investigator Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant dean of engineering education and Tooker Professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, explains this grant has the potential to positively affect more than 3,600 students each year after the grant concludes. Middle school students will benefit by receiving a quality education from teachers who are trained to be leaders in STEM. And students will be more likely to pursue STEM courses as they progress into high school and acquire the knowledge needed to thrive in STEM careers.

“The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering have formally partnered with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to more carefully and systematically embed engineering education and learning into the preparation of middle school teachers for the communities in which they are going to serve,” says Ganesh. “This will allow us to directly impact the participation of students in STEM education and careers in the future.”

In addition to bolstering collaboration and developing STEM educators, this scholarship will boost community embeddedness. Once students are admitted to the program, they will attend daytime classes and complete student teaching at either the Tolleson or Pendergast school district sites.

“Being selected as a recipient of the Noyce Science Award Grant is a dream come true for the Pendergast School District,” says Lily Matos DeBlieux, superintendent of the Pendergast district. “Our curriculum focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics will continue thanks to the scope of the grant. We are deeply grateful to our Pendergast staff in partnership with ASU and Tolleson Elementary School District for these opportunities for our staff and students to excel.”

This partnership not only solves the immediate need for grades 5–8 math and science teachers, it provides a network for those teachers to become leaders and mentors for future student teachers.

“We feel so fortunate to be one of two districts to offer this extraordinary opportunity through the partnership we have with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College,” says Lupita Ley Hightower, superintendent of Tolleson Elementary School District. “It is truly priceless and will support future educators in having all the necessary tools to be successful in teaching math and science.”

This program positions the Tolleson and Pendergast districts as future leaders for teaching STEM educators while exposing the West Valley middle school students to cutting-edge techniques they perhaps would not otherwise encounter.

“These students may not necessarily know a pathway to becoming an engineer exists for them,” says Ganesh. “If you don’t open the engineering profession to young people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, you’re not going to have innovation. Diversity of thought is critical to create richer and more complex solutions that will better meet the needs of all members of society.”

In order to help current and future middle school students, recipients of this scholarship must commit to teaching in a Title I school for at least two years after graduation.

“This is important because we need to be attracting talented leaders to our classroom who can actually work with kids to have a strong math and science background leaving the eighth grade,” concludes Harris.

About Robert Noyce

Robert Noyce helped create the first integrated circuit (a predecessor of the microprocessor) and founded two companies — Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor. Noyce basically founded California’s Silicon Valley. As a leader, mentor and engineer, he embodied the passion and skills that our current middle school students require as they move into high school classes. This same focus translates to the goals of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

“By focusing on junior high teachers, we are trying to elevate the children’s math, science and engineering ability, as well as academic achievement prior to getting to high school,” says Harris. “The focus needs to happen in junior high so those students have access to higher-level curriculum classes once they matriculate into high school.”

Want to know more?

If you have an undergraduate degree in a STEM-related field, have a desire to teach children about how fascinating math and science can be, and eventually want to become a leader in these schools, find out more about the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program today.

Written by Trista Sobeck, communications director in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1758368. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

About The Author

Amanda Stoneman

Amanda currently serves as a science writer in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Prior to this role, she worked as a copywriter for five years in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and at G/O Digital (formerly GannettLocal). In 2013, Amanda earned a Bachelor of Arts in English (creative writing) at ASU. Now, she's pursuing a Master of Science in technical communication from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Media Contact: anstonem@asu.edu | 480-727-5622 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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