The National Science Foundation granted Oswego State $300,000 to attract and retain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students into the School of Education. The two-year grant begins dispersing Saturday.
The focus is on finding talent from the STEM fields to work in education in order to produce competent and passionate teachers. Schools throughout the United States are hard-pressed to find STEM teachers that meet the minimum requirements, much less exceed them.
In other countries, teachers are the best and brightest and teaching is a prestigious career, said Martha D. Bruch, chemistry professor and researcher for the grant. In the United States there are higher paying, more respected jobs for STEM students, such as medicine or engineering. Teachers in the United States carry a stigma, Bruch said. They are held responsible for the failure of students and are not paid well. This poses a serious problem, according to Bruch.
“If we don’t keep talented teachers, we won’t be producing quality students,” Bruch said.
As if attracting students to education was not hard enough, retention is a major problem as well. About 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years and that’s overall, not even mentioning urban areas, Burch said.
The grant is designed to address both appeal and retention problems. Diann Jackson, of the education department, is the assistant director of Rice Creek and a researcher for the grant. She said the grant will allow both the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Education to give students opportunities and support, which was never before possible.
“I’m very excited about the potential, there are great opportunities for students and faculty,” Jackson said.
But appealing to three groups of people will take three different approaches.
Oswego State is partnering with local school districts to promote the STEM field, too, thus producing future candidates for the program. To attract current Oswego State students, the program aims to introduce the childhood classroom setting earlier (between freshman and sophomore year) and create an education program that will fit more easily into a standard four years. For upperclassmen, this grant will provide scholarship money if they decide to pursue a graduate degree in education here at Oswego State. And to attract workers in the STEM fields looking for a career change or post-retirement, the grant will design a program to help them to return to teaching.
Problems in retention are not as simple. Scholarships with grant money will help interested students receive an education degree, while new programs will help them finish degrees more efficiently, hopefully in four years.
While the development of programs officially begins in October, planning for the grant has already begun. There has been one meeting and several conversations. The next step is to hire a program coordinator.
“Will this work? We hope so,” Bruch said. “It’s trial and error, on the job training. We have to be nimble, see what works and what doesn’t… and change what doesn’t.”