March 06, 2012

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In support of a key national goal – and Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) efforts - to address a critical shortage of educators who are qualified to teach math and science, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and Barbara Olds, a top National Science Foundation official responsible for teacher preparation, spoke at the launch of the STEM Education Center at WPI on March 6, 2012.

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The STEM Education Center at WPI is dedicated to supporting and preparing K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educators. The new Center will expand the existing course offerings and incorporate additional professional development opportunities; this event allows for K-12 teachers to learn more about opportunities for strengthening their own training so that they can have a greater impact in teaching young learners the STEM disciplines.

"There can be no doubt that a STEM educated workforce is critical to our nation’s economic well-being, and to our collective quality of life," said WPI President and CEO Dennis Berkey. "To produce more scientists and engineers, we have to first produce better teachers of engineering and science. Traditionally, there has been a strong focus placed on pedagogy, but it's time we shift that focus to content; we must make our STEM educators comfortable with these important subject areas. WPI knows how engage young people in science, math, and technology, and The STEM Education Center allows 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."

Federal research indicates that the United States will soon face a critical shortage of educators qualified to teach math and science. 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.

Accordingly, President Barack Obama has set a goal of training more than 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade through his "Educate to Innovate" campaign. Last month, President Obama called for $80 million from Congress for new U.S. Department of Education teacher preparation programs.

The STEM Education Center's Executive Director is Martha Cyr. A nationally-recognized expert on K-12 educational outreach, Cyr has worked to establish WPI’s K-12 STEM outreach programs as one of the largest and most comprehensive in the nation since 2003. She is also part of the development team of TeachEngineering, a widely used online resource for primary and secondary school teachers whose subject matter includes engineering.

"Barbara Olds is one of the foremost experts in the country on preparing future teachers, and Lt. Gov. Murray is someone who recognizes the paramount importance of STEM education has been a driving force behind improving STEM education for students across the Commonwealth," Cyr said. "With these two and countless others supporting us, the real winners will be the students in the classrooms in the near future." 

Lt. Gov. Murray is the chairman of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council, and has listed STEM education as one of his priorities. At the NSF, Deputy Director Olds focuses her efforts on the Directorate for Education and Human Resources which funds the majority of  research and development in science education, including the preparation of mathematics and science teachers.

The STEM Education Center at WPI focuses on three pillars, all of which are aimed at "supporting and preparing the teachers" in STEM fields. The pillars are Licensure and Degrees, Professional Development and Research on Teaching and Learning.

  • For Licensure and Degrees, the center offers 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 with technology/engineering to be added. Additionally, there will be degree programs expanded beyond the current one in math 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 and education leaders 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.