Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reinforcing the Valley’s Supply of STEM Teachers

Submitted by Andrew Tucker, District Communications Manager, Maricopa Community Colleges. This story can also be found in the July 27 edition of the Tempe Republic. 

Just as there is a need to drive student interest and career choices in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), a nationwide shortage of STEM teachers is simultaneously increasing and widening the job skills gap.

Tempe-based Rio Salado College offers solutions to this growing trend through innovative, cost-effective, and flexible teacher preparation programs.

Since 2000, Rio Salado College has certified more than 170 teachers in math and science, and an additional 2,700 students in their elementary, secondary, early childhood or K-12 arts programs.

What’s more, in a survey administered by the Arizona Department of Education in March 2012, 92% of K-12 principals ranked Rio Salado’s first year teacher education graduates as meeting or exceeding the rate of preparedness in comparison to other first-year teachers.

Paul Strauss is a science teacher from the Deer Valley Unified School District who spent eight years in the high tech industry before realizing his true passion was helping people learn.

“I came to Rio Salado to learn how to bridge my work experience into the classroom,” said Strauss. In 2012, he was selected as the Teacher of the Year for his district. “Being an 8th grade science teacher requires me to be on my A-game every day and, because of my experience with Rio Salado, I’ve had the confidence I needed from day one.”

Valley K-12 principals are constantly looking for quality STEM teachers.

“There are a limited number of teachers who have the content knowledge needed to offer courses that are at a higher academic level,” said Wendy Nance, Chandler Unified School District’s Director of Human Resources. “School districts across the nation have seen the need to increase the knowledge and skills of our students, especially in math and science, in order to prepare our future workforce to compete globally.”

In 2011, Rio Salado College received a coveted five-year National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Scholarship Grant for its SMILE (Science and Math Innovative Learning Environments) program for Encore Careers in Education.

In fact, Rio Salado was the first community college to serve as the lead institution on a Noyce Grant, which helps professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree and have experience working in a STEM related field transition into 7th-12th grade STEM teaching careers.

In addition to full tuition and fees, the program provides a stipend to help with other educational expenses. Successful participants earn a teaching credential and commit to teach for two years in high-need classrooms. Currently, the program partners with more than a dozen school districts across the state.

“The Noyce Scholarship Program is such a boon to both education and industry – particularly in rural Arizona,” said Susan Carlson, Executive Director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC).

“These scholarships provide a pathway for STEM-talented individuals to move from the private sector into the classroom: benefiting them as individuals, benefiting both students who will learn from experienced STEM professionals, and STEM industries that are looking for well-educated grads.”