The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Non-profit awards $1.45 mil. grant

A University press released announced Feb. 17 that Drexel was selected to receive a $1.45 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming education in the United States from grades three through 12.

The grant was received in order to replicate the UTeach program that was created in the UTeach Institute in The University of Texas at Austin, which created a national network of K-12 educators, research and clinical faculty. The UTeach program aims to improve science, technology, engineering and math education across the country and is implemented in 35 universities with 6,000 students. The program allows for students to earn a degree in their major and a teaching certification within their four-year program.

“The United States’ position as a global leader is, in part, a result of the innovation and discovery of our scientists and engineers. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics impact our daily lives in many ways, from advances in medicine that increase the average human lifespan, to new forms of interaction and communication and discoveries that unlock the mysteries of the universe,” Jason Silverman, associate professor of mathematics education and the director of the mathematics learning and teaching program, said.

“This grant solidifies Drexel’s position within the vanguard of efforts to increase the ranks of those qualified to teach STEM in today’s schools,” President John A. Fry said in the press release.

The UTeach program at Drexel will be known as “DragonsTEACH” and is an interdisciplinary initiative between the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering and the School of Education. The program will be codirected by Silverman, associate professor of physics Luis Cruz, and professor of electrical and computer engineering Adam Fontecchio.

According to Silverman, the DragonsTEACH program will allow for features such as creating an interdisciplinary undergraduate STEM teacher education program led by a team of STEM subjects and STEM education faculty. The program will actively recruit undergraduate STEM majors with financial benefits and other incentives to consider teaching, and a pathway to complete both their major and a secondary teaching certification. Students in the program would have more career options by completing the program, according to Silverman.

“Teaching certification opens doors beyond teaching. For example, medical school admissions place a priority on students with education backgrounds, in part because of the role that advanced medical students serve in residency,” Silverman said.

“I’ve always considered educating in physics as a possibility, like as a fallback or if I find myself wanting to do that. If I had the opportunity to get certified in that, it would be while I was here studying physics in general. It’d be really advantageous,” David Georgeanni, a sophomore physics major, said.

The program is expected to start at the beginning of the next academic year, with two introductory recruitment courses, featuring introduction to inquiry-based instruction and mentored development of inquiry-based learning activities. Participants will be required to go to local schools. Each of these courses is worth 1.5 credit hours and students who complete them will receive a stipend into their DragonDollars account.

The program is predicted to have more than 250 undergraduates enrolled in it, producing more than 50 teachers per year by the program’s fifth year, according to Silverman.

“Drexel has made and continues to make considerable efforts in the preparation of STEM teachers, producing teachers primarily through graduate certification programs that emphasize teaching in urban contexts and experiential learning, the appropriate use of technology in teaching and learning, and other best practices in education. However, given the size of Drexel’s undergraduate population and its strong emphasis in STEM fields, we produce a very small number of undergraduate STEM teachers,” Silverman said.

Silverman will begin recruitment this spring. “We will be recruiting incoming freshmen during campus visit days during the spring and the summer, as well as other forms of outreach to accepted students. For current students, project staff will be visiting introductory science, engineering, and mathematics classes and sharing information about the program and its benefits. We will also be reaching out to students via University 101 experiences and being present around campus and at campus events,” Silverman said.

Sophomores will be allowed to join the introductory courses as well. Juniors and pre-juniors will be able to enter the program  once online courses become available. Juniors and seniors will most likely need additional time after graduation in order to complete the program.

“Too often in the United States — and especially in urban and other under-resourced schools —STEM teachers are teaching out of their area and/or are underprepared for their specific teaching assignments,” Silverman said.

According to a 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment study, 29 nations’ students performed better than U.S. students in mathematics and 22 nations’ students performed better than U.S. students in science.

“On the national level, we are unable to produce enough STEM students to fill the strong and evolving demand for STEM jobs. For these reasons and others, there is a clear need to improve the quality of STEM education in the United States,” Silverman said. According to Silverman, President Obama endorsed the STEM movement, committing to prepare 100,000 new STEM teachers.

Drexel was one of five universities to receive this grant. The expansion of the UTeach program is predicted to create 9,000 more math and science teachers by 2020, 10 percent of the predicted 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021. The other four schools that received the grant are Florida International University, Oklahoma State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Maryland, College Park.

“It is important to note that this isn’t just about teaching. STEM students that concurrently explore teaching have higher retention rates in their majors, higher graduation rates and overall higher GPAs. While there is no empirical research on the reasons for this, it is widely believed that students who think deeply about understanding and supporting others’ development themselves become better learners,” Silverman said.