Texas University Gets $1.2 Million to Train STEM Educators

The National Science Foundation recently awarded St. Edward's University $1,181,608 million to recruit and train undergraduates for future teaching careers in biology, chemistry and mathematics.

by Lara Korte, Austin American-Statesman / February 6, 2020

 (TNS) - The National Science Foundation has awarded St. Edward's University $1,181,608 million to recruit and train undergraduates for teaching careers in biology, chemistry and mathematics.

The university aims to recruit 18 undergraduates majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, and support them in becoming highly qualified middle and high school teachers. School leaders and lawmakers say the program will help fill a critical lack of STEM educators across the country.

Glenda Ballard, St. Edward's dean of the School of Human Development and Education, said there's a perception that teaching only leads to low-paying jobs and as a result, there's a lack of people entering the field. Ballard said she hopes this new program will help shift the paradigm.

"My argument as a life-long educator is that it is actually a wonderful entry-level occupation and oftentimes individuals find it does suit their lifestyle," she said. "You can make a difference in kids' lives and you can contribute to this occupation."

The first installment of $629,641 will be issued this year and used to develop the program in partnership with Del Valle school district and other area programs focused on innovation in STEM education. Starting in summer 2021, the university will select six junior STEM majors and award them each a $40,000 scholarship. The students will study education practices and connect with other STEM educators in the area. After graduation, the students will be expected to work at least four years in a small school district, ideally in Texas.

Nationally, there is a shortage of qualified STEM teachers. While elementary school teachers often are trained to have a basically knowledge of many subjects, teachers at the middle and high school level are encouraged to be experts in their fields. When it comes to STEM, college students often opt for higher-paying jobs in those fields or graduate school instead of teaching. Steven Fletcher, chair of the teacher education department and the grant's principal investigator, said the new program will both introduce students to the benefits of teaching and provide them with a network of support to keep them in those jobs.

"Students that are able to enter into the program will also have other benefits and will have lots of teaching experience before they graduate as well as a really strong support system," he said.

In addition to the Del Valle district, St. Edward's students with partner with several organizations centered around "maker education," which encourages individuals to find creative solutions and use innovative approaches to solve problems. St. Edward's is partnering with UTeach Maker, Co. Lab Community Makers and Breakthrough Central Texas.

"It's about building a regional community of teachers that care about training and preparing students for the challenges of our next generation," Fletcher said.

The program will recruit six students each summer through 2025, after which Fletcher said the school hopes to apply for more grants to continue the recruitment.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who has supported several STEM initiatives during his time in Congress, applauded the school for its grant application.

"Investing in the next generation of Texas STEM leaders will provide those students with invaluable skills now and keep Texas' economy strong in the future," Cornyn said in a statement. "I commend local leaders for their successful grant application and thank the Trump Administration for investing in the students at St. Edward's University."

George E. Martin, president of St. Edward's, said the school looks forward to working with their regional partners in this venture.

"This funding will support our efforts to develop a well-prepared teacher workforce that will, in turn, prepare and inspire young people across Texas and the nation to enter careers in STEM fields," he said in a statement.

©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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