Grant to develop STEM teachers lands at MLFTC


Trista Sobeck

There is no deficit of news about Arizona’s teacher shortage and the crisis our schools are facing. And if you think about specific needs school districts have, that talent pool becomes even smaller. This is especially true when it comes to teachers trained in STEM. Science, technology, engineering and math subjects are vital for our elementary, middle school and high school students to learn and understand as they prepare for 21st-century jobs and careers

According to Pamela Harris, assistant clinical professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and principal investigator for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, the challenge is real and the need is great, especially in the Pendergast and Tolleson school districts in west Phoenix, Arizona.

Pendergast School District has one of the most extreme shortages in math and science. 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.

Harris explains that the main objective of the Noyce grant is to recruit people who are passionate about math and science content and focus on encouraging teachers to stay at least three years or more, which 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.

“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.”

What’s exciting about this partnership is that it 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.

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program

Robert Noyce helped create the first integrated circuit (a predecessor of the microprocessor) and founded two companies — Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor. Perhaps you’ve heard of California’s Silicon Valley? Noyce basically founded it. 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.

“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,” she explains. What’s currently happening is, unfortunately, that a lot of kids are testing into remedial math and science classes in ninth grade, so they aren’t even able to attend the STEM classes they need in order to concentrate on a STEM field in college.

A strong collaboration between education and engineering

The grant’s abstract, penned by Harris and co-PI Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant dean of engineering education and Tooker Professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, carefully explains that 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 to 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.

“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.”

science teacher

Ulises Aragon, MLFTC alumus and current science teacher instructs a student.

This program positions Tolleson and Pendergast as future leaders in teaching STEM educators. In addition, it is 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. Concludes Harris, “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.”

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 how you can apply to the Robert Noyce Teachers Scholarship Program today.

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.