Project Focused On Graduating More Science Teachers

Oct 1st, 2013 | By | Category: Features
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 expects to more than double the number of science teachers it graduates each year.

The first cohort of academically talented, financially needy astronomy, geosciences, biology, chemistry, and physics students was recruited for participation in the new Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project before the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.

Many students applied.

Only a few were selected.

Eric Haas, a 20-year-old chemistry major from Lee County, Ga., was one of the lucky ones.

“This is probably the best decision I have ever made,” he said.

Through the Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project, Haas and his fellow participants will obtain a bachelor’s degree in a science major and teaching certification through a fifth-year post-baccalaureate program — all at VSU. They will participate in field experiences in schools within the Valdosta City School System and have the opportunity to participate in summer internships. Participants 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.

“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,” explained Dr. Brian Gerber, acting dean of the Dewar College of Education and Human Services. “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 [Dewar] College of Education [and Human Services] 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.”

Haas spent this past summer working on a variety of projects — artificial reef, deep ocean collector, science road show, and technology in education — with Dr. Thomas J. Manning, chemistry professor. He also submitted a paper to a science education journal and a patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

A nursing major for nearly a year and a half, Haas said that he changed his major to chemistry in the spring. When Manning walked into his first laboratory lecture class and told him about the new Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project, he did not hesitate to apply.

“I really enjoy chemistry,” he added. “It is never dull, and I cannot believe that I am doing something I actually enjoy doing,” such as spending nearly every day in one of the laboratories in the Hugh C. Bailey Science Center, working on research that will certainly have a lasting impact on the world and its people and creating experiments designed to get younger kids excited about science, “and I am getting paid for it.”

Haas said that he is the first chemistry major in his family.

“This is probably the best decision I have ever made,” he said.

“The summer internships will allow the Noyce scholars the ability to gain deeper science knowledge and apply that knowledge to real-world experiences,” Gerber said. “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.”

A second cohort of science majors will be selected during the 2013-2014 academic year, said Gerber, who serves as principal investigator and project director along with Manning. Each of the project participants agree to teach in a high-need and economically disadvantaged high school or middle school a minimum of two years for every one year they benefit from project funds.

“This is a very exciting project in which we have every hope will produce highly qualified and exciting science teachers,” Gerber said. “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.”