The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Berry College a $1.2 million grant to address the national shortage of secondary teachers in the STEM fields.
“We are excited about lead researcher Jill Cochran’s project at Berry College to provide Robert Noyce Scholarships to students preparing to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in high-needs school districts,” said Noyce Scholarship program manager Steve Turley in NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
“We are convinced Dr. Cochran’s approach to attracting, training and supporting these students will have a significant impact on improving STEM secondary education in Northwest Georgia,” Turley said.
The goals of the project are two-fold: to graduate 25 highly qualified scholars to teach in high-need rural and urban schools and to strengthen Berry’s STEM education program. The money will help expand an already existing program at Berry called STEMTeach. The pilot program, launched in 2017 at Berry, recruits mathematics majors into teaching by providing outreach and early awareness, apprenticeships with master teachers, mentoring and early field experiences.
“Berry College will have a much greater impact on the quality of STEM secondary education that Northwest Georgia and the state provide its most vulnerable high school students,” said Jackie McDowell, Dean of the Charter School of Education at Berry. “STEMTeach at Berry will address a lack of early awareness of teaching as a ‘first-choice’ career in STEM. For STEM majors who do not consider teaching before their junior or even senior year, late decision-making results in additional time and expense.”
Most of the NSF grant money will go toward scholarships for students who enter the program in their junior and senior years of college at Berry. Students who choose to major in STEM fields for secondary education, will receive $12,000 for their junior year and $15,000 for their senior year. Students will be chosen and begin the program in August.
“There are a lot of students who realize late in their time at Berry they don’t want to go work in a lab or sit in a cubicle, so we’re hoping to catch those students earlier and help them see teaching as a prestigious option as a career,” said Cochran, associate professor and department chair of mathematics and computer science at Berry.
The grant will also strengthen Berry’s STEM education program by:
· expanding STEMTeach to include science majors
· developing three STEM-focused education courses
· creating activities and supports specifically for alumni STEM dual majors
· raising awareness of STEM education opportunities for faculty and potential students
As a result of the grant, Berry College officials anticipate increasing the production of new STEM teachers by 50 percent annually and recruiting more students from a diversity of STEM disciplines. STEM teaching majors have their pick of jobs and often signing bonuses.
“We built up the STEMTeach program for our secondary math teaching majors. It was going well and we wanted to make it bigger and include our science and creative technologies colleagues,” Cochran added.
In addition, the grant will pay for students’ “Maymester” in which they travel to another country to teach primary and secondary students and learn about the culture. All teacher education majors teach abroad as part of their coursework and earn an ESOL endorsement as well.
Completing the circle, the grant will also require that Berry faculty follow up and provide support for the STEMTeach graduates for four years. Berry partners with high-need area school districts such as Floyd County Schools and Rome City Schools.
“Rome and Floyd are partners on this grant from start to finish,” Cochran said. “The mentors come from these two districts and they also place seniors in classrooms for student teaching.”