As federal research indicates that the United States will soon face a critical shortage of educators qualified to teach math and science, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today announced that it will open a center of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. The STEM Education Center at WPI will improve preparedness of primary and secondary school teachers so that they can better educate and engage young people in these critical disciplines.
“WPI is widely known as a center for educational innovation," said WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey, himself an award-winning college mathematics teacher and author of innovative calculus texts. “Our professors have a proud history of engaging young people to get them interested in science, math, and technology, which has enabled us to develop a number of highly effective programs that assist teachers in bringing these subjects alive for their students. The students, in turn, become motivated to explore careers in these fields.
“The STEM Education Center will build on this success,” Berkey continued. “It will allow us to centralize and share our expertise with K-12 educators and administrators, giving them the tools they need to provide the type of education that can revitalize American competitiveness; the relationship between a STEM-educated workforce and a strong economy is undeniable.”
Martha Cyr, Ph.D., a nationally recognized authority on K-12 educational outreach, will serve as the executive director of the STEM Education Center at WPI. Cyr has been at the helm of WPI’s K-12 outreach programs since 2003. She has published extensively on STEM outreach and has frequently been an invited speaker on engineering education at national forums. Among her credits, Cyr helped develop TeachEngineering, an extensive online resource for K-12 educators who teach engineering. She advised the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) in helping the commonwealth create frameworks for a statewide K-12 engineering curriculum, and in 2005, she became the state’s Project Lead The Way (PLTW) affiliate director working to provide pre-engineering curriculum training modules to more than 20 Massachusetts schools.
“The STEM Education Center at WPI will engage and empower K-12 STEM educators and help them to do the critically important job of fostering the next generation of scientists and engineers who will help solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world,” said Cyr. “Our nation and our world are relying on these teachers and their students, and WPI is dedicated to helping them succeed.”
The STEM Education Center at WPI will focus on three primary areas – Certification and Degree Programs, Professional Development Workshops, and Integration of Research on Teaching and Learning – and utilize the entirety of WPI’s vast educator resources, coordinating all of its K-12 efforts for STEM educators and administrators into one central location.
- For Certification and Degrees, the center will offer students, while they are pursuing their four-year degree within their major, a track to simultaneously receive initial licensure to teach in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and technology/engineering. Additionally, there will be degree programs developed for practicing teachers to receive a master’s degree in those areas.
- The center will also enable practicing educators to receive specialized professional development courses in STEM content. Such courses are appropriate for any teacher wishing to further their professional growth, and would address the wants and needs of teachers who are required to strengthen their content knowledge, but not needing to work toward another advanced degree.
- WPI’s existing focus on Teaching and Learning in Science and Math will greatly assist the center in imparting verifiable data to key decision-makers, particularly superintendents, principals, and science specialists.
In addition to being one of this nation’s original technological universities, WPI also provides one of the largest and most comprehensive university-based K-12 STEM outreach programs. Over the past 10 years WPI staff and faculty have engaged more than 115,000 girls and boys and 5,300 educators through STEM-focused programs that are targeted at students in elementary, middle, and secondary schools; programs that seek to engage girls and students from underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines; and programs that provide training and classroom resources for teachers.
The shortage of qualified STEM educators was sounded in several government reports in recent years. Reports released in recent years by both the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) and the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) have detailed a critical shortage in STEM-educated teachers that could leave the United States at a competitive economic disadvantage. The USDOE’s 2011 Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide List noted critical shortages in math and science throughout the United States, particularly in urban and rural settings. The nationwide need for new STEM teachers over the next decade is more than 100,000. The USDOL’s 2007 report, “The STEM Workforce Challenge,” referred to the dramatic increase in the number of STEM-field jobs, while noting there is a lack of sufficiently trained workers leaving American colleges and universities to fill them.