Jackson State University (JSU) was awarded a five-year $3.7 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to address the challenge of providing high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers for all students in high-need school districts. The project titled “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Teacher Academy Resident System or STEM STARS” was developed from lessons learned during a successful three-year pilot project led by JSU in partnership with Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) where 32 new science and mathematics teachers were licensed and placed in high-need schools.
Dr. William McHenry, executive director of the Mississippi e-Center Foundation and professor of chemistry at JSU, serves as the principal investigator. Dr. Daniel Watkins, dean of the College of Education at JSU; Dr. Renee Akbar, division chair of Educational Leadership at XULA; Dr. Mary E. Benjamin, vice chancellor for Research, Innovation and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB); and Dr. Melvin Davis, executive director of the Mississippi Urban Research Center (MURC) at JSU, serve as co-principal investigators on the project.
“Clearly the most important element in producing more competitive scientists and engineers is to provide students with outstanding science and mathematics teachers. The STEM STARS initiative will develop an exceptional model that can be adopted by other universities,” said Dr. Carolyn W. Meyers, president of Jackson State University.
STEM STARS is a partnership between JSU, XULA, UABP and diverse urban and rural school districts in Jackson, Miss.; New Orleans; and Pine Bluff, Ark. — the ArkLaMiss region serves more than 175,000 students. STEM STARS program will prepare 120 teacher residents who will gain clinical, mentored experience and develop familiarity with local schools, which is designed to enhance teacher retention and diversity rates. The Mississippi e-Center at JSU leads the NSF initiative to produce 120 new STEM STARS (science and mathematics teachers) for the ArkLaMiss region and develop and test a research-based strategy.
McHenry said, “The goal of STEM STARS is to democratize STEM education by providing effective science and mathematics teachers in high-need school districts. Research shows that the most important resources in high-need schools are first-rate teachers. We will adopt the medical school clinical model (TRA-Teacher Residency Academies) to establish a pathway for STEM graduates to enter the classrooms. We will use the TRA model to recruit, license, induct, employ and retain middle school and secondary science and mathematics teachers for high-need schools in the Deep South.”
McHenry also stated that this class of new teachers will be connected to National Board Certified “CyberMentors” (coaches) to assist with their professional development.
The partnership between three historically black universities, which have a major role in the nation’s STEM and teacher education, will focus on science and mathematics education at the middle school and secondary levels and will center on continuing research and evaluation to inform project implementation. STEM STARS is the only program of its type to explicitly incorporate National Board standards and assessments into its requirements.
“We are pleased and honored to join with these two great institutions on a major project to greatly enhance the number and quality of exceptional STEM teachers. The NSF funds for this partnership will enable our STEM STARS to shine brightly in their interactions with our STEM students on campus and as they bring advanced teaching techniques to transform the educational experiences for students in schools in our communities,” said Dr. Laurence B. Alexander, chancellor of the UAPB.
“We know that the cultivation and nurture of the scientific and engineering talent among our K-12 students requires outstanding teachers of science and mathematics, (who are) able to encourage passion and imagination. We at Xavier University of Louisiana are very pleased to partner with colleagues at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and at Jackson State University to prepare such teachers, STEM STARS, and to assure the readiness of students in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas,” said Dr. C. Reynold Verret, president of XULA.
Data show that there is a clear need for a research-driven intervention to increase the number of licensed science and mathematics teachers in the U.S. The STEM STARS partnership with its focus on middle school and secondary science and mathematics helps make it unique in its approach to increasing the number of high-quality, culturally responsive and licensed middle and secondary science teachers prepared to teach in the nation’s high-need urban and rural schools.
Project outcomes are expected to inform the design of additional Teacher Residency Academies that will serve as novel alternatives to the traditional teacher preparation and post-baccalaureate certification programs common throughout the nation. The 120 teacher residents supported by the program will obtain state licensure/certification in science teaching, a master’s degree and initiation to National Board certification.