February 1, 2013
VSU Initiative Focuses On Graduating More Science Teachers
VALDOSTA — Through a partnership with the Valdosta City School System and an award of nearly $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation, Valdosta State University hopes to more than double the number of science teachers it graduates each year. Before spring semester ends, 10 academically talented, financially needy sophomore biology, chemistry, geosciences, physics, and astronomy students will be recruited for participation in the first cohort of the Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project.
Dr. Brian L. Gerber, professor and acting dean of the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education, said, “The first cohort of 10 students will be recruited this semester. We will look for sophomore science majors that may not know that science teaching in middle or high school could be an option for them. We can even provide some experiences in the local middle schools and high school to help them make that decision. Arrangements can be made for them to sit in on classes in the schools, speak with teachers and administrators, etc. We want them to make an informed decision as they are selecting a career path that will impact the rest of their lives.”
A second cohort of 10 sophomore science majors will be selected during the 2013-2014 academic year, said Gerber, who serves as principal investigator and project director along with Dr. Thomas J. Manning, chemistry professor. The project will primarily target black and Hispanic students from rural South Georgia based on demonstrated academic potential, potential for future professional success, and financial need.
A five-year initiative, Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project participants will obtain both a bachelor’s degree in a science major and teaching certification through a fifth-year post-baccalaureate program. They will participate in field experiences in middle and high schools in the Valdosta City School System. At the end of their sophomore year, the students will enter the paid summer internship phase of the project. At the start of their junior year, they will receive a scholarship of up to $12,000 per year to cover the costs of their college attendance, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, housing, etc., for three years. Gerber said the amount will vary per student based on what other forms of financial aid he or she is already receiving.
“The development of a program to encourage talented science majors to become teachers is vitally important to our region,” noted Dr. William O. Cason, Valdosta City School System superintendent. “As a committed partner in this initiative, we will support the participating students completing this program through opening our doors for them to complete field experiences, student teaching, or internships. We agree to make sure these future teachers are partnered with only our best science teachers so they have models of classroom excellence from which to emulate. Additionally, the highly qualified completers of this Noyce Program will be sought after for permanent employment, as we are well aware that extensive content knowledge coupled with standards-based pedagogy skills provides the foundation for a truly exceptional teacher. We are sure that the graduates of this program will have a measurable impact on K-12 student achievement.”
Gerber answered a few additional questions regarding the Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention Project:
Q: Do you think it will be difficult recruiting students for the program? As you note in your grant proposal, VSU typically only graduates four of these teachers a year. You want to graduate 10 and then another 10.
A: Time will tell, but I am hoping that recruiting 10 students each year will not be an issue. Currently, in the state of Georgia, if a student wants to become a high school science teacher, they must complete their undergraduate degree and then enroll in further classes to acquire their education and pedagogy coursework. This can create a financial burden for the student. This grant eliminates that worry as it pays for up to three years of tuition (their last two years to complete their undergraduate science degree and then their year of coursework in the College of Education to obtain their education courses). Additionally, it pays them for summer work with scientists, six weeks for each of two summers at $450 per week. This is a very generous program that eliminates the financial burden that could have previously hindered a student from making the decision of becoming a science teacher.
Q: The summer internships sound exciting and should really help bring science into the real world. When these students become teachers, the experience will be very important as they help the middle school and high school students understand complicated subject matter. Real-world examples that they are familiar with help them better understand the material. Is that part of the goal of these summer internships?
A: Yes, you are right on. The summer internships will allow the Noyce scholars the ability to gain deeper science knowledge and apply that knowledge to real-world experiences. We have a great group of scientists here at VSU that are highly involved in cutting-edge research and applications of science. The Noyce scholars working with these experts will gain a tremendous amount of confidence in the science they know and the ability to apply that knowledge in different situations. This real-world experience will translate to better teaching in the classroom and higher levels of learning by their students.
Q: Since VSU has a long-standing partnership with the Valdosta City School System, do you hope to get some Valdosta High School graduates interested in this program?
A: It would be absolutely tremendous if we could get some of our local high school graduates to enter into this program and have them return to their schools to become science teachers. While we cannot restrict Noyce scholars to this group, we would certainly look favorably on this group and hope many would apply to enter this program.
Q: Are you excited about the next 60 months and seeing the project reach all of its goals?
A: This is a very exciting project in which we have every hope will produce highly qualified and exciting science teachers. Our nation lags behind international peers in terms of science achievement. Through this grant, Valdosta State University has been recognized as a place where innovative science teacher preparation occurs through the engagement of faculty across campus and teachers within our local schools. Partnerships such as these are going to be vital for the existence of higher education and to fulfill the promise of producing the very best science teachers in the world.
Q: Will there be additional funding for additional cohorts after this?
A: The only way we may be able to select another cohort during the following year, 2014-2015, is if some of the previous students selected are already receiving funding through HOPE or some other means. These National Science Foundation funds cannot supplant other forms of aid the student already has available to them but can supplement those funds, if needed. This may allow us to reserve some of the funds designated for tuition and therefore be able to select another cohort in addition to the two originally supported in the project.