WPI Researchers to Recruit, Train Students to Teach STEM in Urban School Districts
Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have been awarded a $1,139,476 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program to recruit and train WPI students from diverse backgrounds to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in urban school districts with a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
The five-year award will provide scholarships of up to $20,000 a year for two years for 18 undergraduates, summer internships of $5,000 for 15 undergraduates, and continuing programming for graduates while they are teaching. To be eligible for Noyce Scholar scholarships, students commit to teach two years in a high-need district for each year of scholarship funding received.
Shari Weaver, director of the Teacher Preparation Program at WPI’s STEM Education Center and principal investigator of the project, said one goal is to address a shortage of STEM teachers that hits urban schools particularly hard.
“Shortages in STEM teachers often result in STEM classrooms being led by instructors without training in specific disciplines or veterans of industry who lack teacher training,” Weaver said. “As a STEM university, WPI is well positioned to help address this. Our graduates possess deep knowledge in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, and they receive training in culturally responsive pedagogy. When we put students with STEM knowledge and community-based teaching experiences into classrooms as teachers, they can elevate STEM instruction.”
Other goals for the program are to recruit diverse individuals to the teaching workforce, and to address financial concerns that could influence graduates to pursue jobs in industry rather than teaching.
Researchers will start recruiting juniors and seniors for WPI’s first class of Noyce Scholars in April, with an aim of training students who are majoring in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematical science, actuarial mathematics, computer science, or engineering. WPI’s Office of Multicultural Affairs will help recruit students of color to the program, and Worcester and Leominster Public Schools will offer practical training for students and job opportunities for graduates.
The first full-time, six- to eight-week internships will begin in June and July in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, the Worcester Department of Parks and Recreation, the Latino Education Institute, and Girls Inc. of Worcester.
Co-principal investigators on the WPI project are Arne Gericke, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Katherine Chen, executive director of the WPI’s STEM Education Center; and Douglas Petkie, professor and head of the Department of Physics.
WPI prepares undergraduates for teaching through its Teacher Preparation Program, which requires students to take four pedagogy courses and do student teaching in a middle or high school for a semester, in addition to courses required for their major. After graduation, they are qualified to seek a Massachusetts initial license to teach classes such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, technology, and engineering.
In the past, some graduates of the teaching program have taken higher paying jobs in industry rather than enter the teaching workforce. Chen, Weaver, and Petkie previously were awarded $75,000 in NSF funding for capacity building to examine how to build the STEM teacher workforce, and what they learned helped shape the new program, Chen said.
“Oftentimes, individuals immediately dismiss the possibility of teaching at the kindergarten through 12th-grade level due to the perceived costs of teacher training and low teacher salaries,” Chen said. “The Noyce program will help lower barriers for WPI students to pursue teaching after graduation.”
NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program provides funding for scholarships, stipends, and programs to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers in high-needs districts.