Thursday, December 10, 2009

New fellowship program draws STEM majors to teaching in public schools

Ten recent graduates or professionals in mathematics and science have returned to classes at the University of Georgia this fall to become future math and science teachers in Georgia’s public schools, thanks to a new scholarship program in the UGA College of Education, funded by nearly $1 million in federal grants.

The Noyce Fellows program provides scholarships and stipends for science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors and professionals to attain a teaching certificate or a graduate education degree in exchange for a two-year commitment to teach in a high-needs public school in Georgia.

The program, based in the college’s department of mathematics and science education, was originally funded by a four-year, $750,000 National Science Foundation grant which will support three cohorts of 10 fellows each to complete teacher certification and a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree.

Now, the NSF has awarded the department an additional $150,000 to support four more scholars per cohort, thanks to funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those four fellows will be added in January to the original 10 who began the program this fall. A second cohort will start in summer or fall 2010 and a third will begin in summer or fall 2011.

“The program is helping us attract highly qualified individuals to teacher careers in science and mathematics to overcome the teaching shortage in these critical fields,” said Denise Mewborn, principal investigator and head of the department of mathematics and science education. “Many of these individuals are giving up lucrative jobs to change careers, so the support the fellowship provides is essential.”

The fellows, who range from recent college graduates to those with years in the workplace, have found themselves drawn to the world of teaching.

Courtney Boehlke, a fellow in this year’s cohort, worked for nine years as a research technician and coordinator for a large lab in UGA’s cell biology department.

“I recently took a good look at what I felt was the most rewarding part of my job,” said Boehlke, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from UGA. “I enjoyed my role as a teacher most. I find my greatest fulfillment in sharing my knowledge with others and seeing their faces when they understand a difficult concept. It is my hope that my career change will allow me to move out of the lab and to pass on my passion for science and learning to future generations of scientists.”

After tutoring college students in mathematics for five years, Priscilla Alexander, a recent graduate of Paine College in Augusta, changed her career plans because she recognized a need for more qualified math teachers in high school classrooms.

“I earned my undergraduate degree in mathematics and planned to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics, but I decided that mathematics education would be more conducive to my career goals,” said Alexander. “Most of all, I want to make a change when it comes to educating future mathematicians.”

Jamie York began to question her career goals after three years as an engineer. She took a strategic approach by researching potential careers and talking with more than 30 people in the teaching field.

“My desire is for a career that has a lasting impact, not simply a bottom line,” said York, who has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. “I also have a growing desire to work with youth, specifically those at risk. Having spent time volunteering with tutoring programs, at-risk youth mentoring programs, and high school discipleship groups, this desire has only continued to grow over the years. Finding a career path that integrated both my passion and my skill set was exactly what I was looking for.”

The fellowship provides financial support, including tuition, fees and a stipend of $4,000 to cover living expenses and books, for gaining certification to teach secondary mathematics or science as well as a graduate degree in those fields.The fellows will proceed through a carefully structured four-semester (summer-fall-spring-summer) program designed to help them develop subject matter knowledge for teaching and implement that knowledge in diverse school settings.

The Robert Noyce Scholarship program has funded four similar fellowship programs in Georgia at Clark Atlanta, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and Kennesaw State universities.There are about 250 of these programs across the nation, ranging from $60,000 to $1.8 million.

For more information on the Noyce Fellowship Program at UGA, see www.coe.uga.edu/mse/nsf_info.html.

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