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Grants to improve STEM education in Nebraska

jbrehm2, September 29, 2010 | View original publication

Grants to improve STEM education in Nebraska

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln two grants totaling more than $4 million to support improved mathematics and science education in Nebraska schools that need it most.

The grants are through NSF's Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, which aims to encourage talented science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers in "high-need" classrooms.

High-need schools include those that educate a large percentage of students living in poverty, or have high teacher turnover rates or a significant number of teachers educating outside their training.

"With these grants, UNL is building on our faculty's expertise and national leadership in math and science education as well as strong ongoing partnerships with schools statewide to increase the number of highly qualified math and science teachers," said Prem S. Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development. "This is a win-win for our Nebraska students and school districts. What we learn from these projects can offer national models for improving math and science education."

The scholarship program is named for Robert Noyce, who co-founded Intel and invented the integrated circuit, which sparked the personal computer revolution. Noyce cared deeply about the dwindling number of students heading into math and science careers.

UNL's Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education will administer both grants. The programs they create are open to new graduates and mid-career professionals.

A team led by Jim Lewis, Aaron Douglas professor of mathematics and director of UNL's Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, has secured a six-year, $3 million grant to improve math education.

The new math program will cover tuition, fees and a stipend for 16 students. They will complete a 14-month course of study and earn a master's degree and certification to teach math for grades 7-12. Courses begin next summer.

Program participants must commit to teaching in a high-need school for four years, but will receive $10,000 each of those years as an incentive.

The program builds on previous successful efforts to enhance mathematics teaching and learning in Nebraska schools, including the Math in the Middle Institute and NebraskaMATH, Lewis said.

"I'm excited that UNL has seized another great opportunity to improve math education to the benefit of the state and future generations," he said.

The grant also will fund an effort to keep 24 strong, master's-degree-holding, K-12 teachers in high-need schools. The selected "master teaching fellows" will take courses that will give them the skills they need to improve math education in their schools and school districts.

Another team led by Jon Pedersen, professor of teaching, learning and teacher education, has won a five-year, nearly $1.2 million grant to improve science education across the state. The program will cover tuition and fees for 56 people who hold bachelor's degrees in science disciplines. They will complete a 14-month master's degree and teacher certification program that will equip them to teach in specific areas like physics, chemistry and earth sciences.

Participants, who must commit to at least two years' teaching in a high-need school, also will have access to mentors and other support through their first years in the classroom.

From 2006 through 2009, the entire University of Nebraska system graduated just two physics teachers, four chemistry teachers and 14 earth science teachers, Pedersen said. The goal of the grant is to increase the number of teachers in underrepresented areas of science.

The grant will affect countless students because it will produce 56 teachers who will have a broad knowledge of science, but also are highly qualified to tackle specific subjects, Pedersen said.

"I am excited that the program's graduates will work with the children in our state and get them enthused about studying various areas of science, including agricultural science, chemistry, physics, earth science or biological science," Pedersen said.

Prospective participants can find more information about both scholarship programs and how to apply at http://scimath.unl.edu/noyce.