STEMulated

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In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for a new effort to prepare 100,000 teachers in the so-called STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — over the next decade. His “Educate to Innovate” and “Preparing a 21st Century Workforce” initiatives carry the mantle of previous administrations to get America moving on the STEM agenda.
 
The call for STEM teachers with “strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge” was renewed in 2012 and codified in the president’s 2013 federal budget, which proposes $3 billion in federal STEM education programs, including an investment of $135 million to improve teaching and learning in STEM fields from early learning through K-12 and college undergraduate levels.
 
Kennesaw State’s message to the president and the nation: “We’re on it.”
 
In fact, for almost a decade, the university has been aggressively positioning itself to become a leader in producing K-12 STEM teachers and steadily building its capacity to recruit, retain and graduate undergraduate students in STEM disciplines. Prior to 2006, KSU was producing fewer than 25 science and math teachers annually. In 2011, the university graduated nearly 100, achieving the distinction of becoming Georgia’s top producer of STEM teachers. More than 200 students are in the STEM teacher preparation pipeline.
 
In addition, the number of students graduating with undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines from fiscal years 2006 through 2011 increased 40 percent,from 265 to 372. More than 3,300 Kennesaw State undergraduate are majoring in STEM fields in the College of Science and Mathematics, which include chemistry/biochemistry, chemistry education, biology, biology education, biotechnology, computer science, mathematics and secondary mathematics education.
 
A number of significant milestones are helping increase KSU’s STEM and STEM education pipeline from a trickle to a steady stream:
 
  • The introduction of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree for math in 2007 and for science in 2008;
  • More than $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase the number of STEM teachers and teacher leaders for K-12 schools, and the number of undergraduate STEM majors, as well as provide professional development for K-12 teachers;
  • A strong collaboration between the College of Science and Mathematics and the Bagwell College of Education, which has created the Center for Advancing the Teaching of Mathematics and Science (A.T.O.M.S), an innovative teacher development center and hub for STEM education initiatives at KSU; and its Center for Education Integrating Science,
  • Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC), which have helped facilitate recruitment of Tech grads into the science and math master of teaching programs;
  • An increase in the number of grants and partnerships that help increase the number of underrepresented minority students majoring in STEM fields;
  • The Kennesaw State University Foundation will fund two faculty fellow positions to enhance research and teaching in biomedical sciences beginning in 2013.
  • “The college is very excited about the opportunities these new positions will offer in growing our undergraduate and graduate programs,” said Mark Anderson, recently appointed dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “We anticipate that in addition to new research areas, they will also contribute to the active outreach programs the college
  • has to the K-12 STEM community.”
  • The addition this fall of a new $21 million science lab containing the high-tech classrooms and labs necessary for instruction, research and future flexibility leading to undergraduate and graduate degree programs in biology, biotechnology, chemistry and biochemistry.
 
Kennesaw State’s reach in the STEM education field was a natural fit for a university that produces more teachers than any higher education institution in Georgia, according to Adrian Epps, associate dean in the College of Science and Mathematics and director of the A.T.O.M.S Center.
 
“It was the vision of the former dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, Larry Peterson, to have KSU also produce the highest number of K-12 science and math teachers,” Epps said. “He committed financial and human resources and formed committees to ensure success. That vision has been embraced by the former interim dean, Ron Matson, and Arlinda Eaton, dean of the Bagwell College of Education. They have continued to devote tremendous resources and have forged a true partnership.”
 
An indicator of how solid and unique that partnership is,
Epps noted, is the large number of education faculty housed in the College of Science and Mathematics — some 25 — who are teaching science and math education, more than at any university in the state.
 
Not an easy road
Despite the increased level of funding, establishing leadership in the STEM education arena has required extreme
commitments of time for planning and recruitment. Add to that, says MAT-science coordinator Greg Rushton, well-known issues inherent to the current state of public K-12 education and the difficulty in attracting STEM professionals to teaching, especially those in the least populated physical sciences like chemistry and physics, then you can see that what KSU has undertaken is not an easy task.
 
“It is easier to recruit teacher candidates in the life sciences and math” said Rushton, director and principal investigator of the I-IMPACT program, which works to recruit and retain secondary chemistry and physics teachers from among professionals in these fields. “Some 70 percent of STEM recruits go into math and biology. We chose to recruit in the most challenging STEM sub-population.”
 
Getting professionals to consider teaching is a hard sell, Rushton concedes, not only to get them in but to keep them
and have them produce at a high level. He points to critical issues that need to be resolved in the teaching profession — paying everyone the same, regardless of productivity, creating a work environment where professionals have a sense of autonomy and not all decisions are top down and having metrics in place for evaluating effectiveness.
 
“Despite these issues, we’re having success because we’re targeting what we think are the most strategic populations: early career professionals who realize that the professions are not consistent with their world views and traditionalists who have 10-20 years invested in their careers and who figure it may be a good time to try something else, perhaps for altruistic reasons, or those who may have been downsized.”
 
With this strategy, Rushton says they have recruited more than 50 people from outside of teaching. “We think
that’s pretty good.”
 
A few good men and women
 
Kevin Cameron, 46, of Dunwoody, became a spring 2012 teaching fellow in the MAT program, supported by an I-IMPACT-Noyce scholarship that provides $10,000 per year for five years and $5,000 for supplies and travel. The stipend covers tuition while he pursues his master’s and follows him into his career of teaching high school chemistry, which he hopes to do in his hometown.
 
Before his most recent 12-year stint as a stay-at-home dad, Cameron, who majored in biology, had a career in technology, working with a company that produces and sells financial software to Fortune 500 companies. It was as a track dad that he met and began talking to KSU’s Adrian Epps — their children were both running cross country — about his experience tutoring high school kids in chemistry. Epps shared information about KSU’s STEM teacher-recruitment efforts and ultimately the two began working on Cameron’s application.
 
“I always knew I wanted to teach, but computers came easy, so I got into that,” Cameron said. “I had a background in biology and I enjoyed that, but I find chemistry more engaging — more exciting, quantifiable and tangible. “This program is really a perfect fit because now that my children are older, I was looking for a career to finish with, but something that would give me more than just a paycheck,” Cameron said.
 
Cameron said he initially became discouraged by an interviewer who said he did not know anything about the classroom. “She was right,” says Cameron. “I didn’t. But I’m learning so much. They’re teaching me to become a great teacher. It’s a sacrifice to miss out on family things, but I think it’s made a positive impression on my 6th- and 10th-grade daughters who see me studying all the time.”
 
As a participant in the IMTAS program, Lauren Barnes earned her MAT in math at KSU in summer 2011 and now teaches support-level classes to students struggling with math at Lassiter High School in Cobb County.
 
A 2010 Georgia Tech graduate who majored in science, technology and Culture, Barnes said she changed major five times before deciding that she wanted to teach.
 
“I had a great love of literature and poetry and a strong aptitude for science and math,” Barnes explained. “I knew I’d be more likely to get a job if I concentrated on math or science. Then one day, I saw a banner in a classroom at Tech announcing the master’s program at Kennesaw. That was it!”
 
As an IMTAS participant, Barnes received $10,000 annually to cover tuition and expenses while earning her MAT in math. She continues to attend monthly Saturday seminars at KSU that help teachers learn more about working with diverse student populations, especially those whose first language is not English. The program also provides support for graduates to attend conferences for math teachers.
 
“The program at KSU and the seminars have been very helpful in teaching me how to get students to work together, despite their differences,” Barnes said. “One of my KSU professors even came to observe my classroom and give me feedback. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned.”
 
Senior biology major Bianca Mondesir is one of those students who probably would have succeeded without funded programs targeted to help her do so. With a 4.0 GPA and an eye towards medical school at Case Western or Morehouse College, the Long Island, N.Y. native always knew she wanted to be a doctor.
 
Still, Modesir, who received NSF funding as a freshman to attend KSU, participated in a 10-week enrichment program called STEM Scholars, where upper class students teach lab techniques to newer students, who in turn, also teach high school students. In recognition of their hard work, they also participate in a Lab Coat Ceremony, where they receive lab coats and are officially inducted into the field of study. The program, which is funded by an NSF grant also provides small scholarships for science majors.
 
Mondesir, one of more than 60 minority students majoring in STEM at KSU, served as president of the STEM Scholars and is a vocal proponent of the program.
 
“The idea is that you learn by doing,” said Mondesir, who has been on both the learning and teaching end of the scholars program. “A lot of minorities set out to do biology but they don’t stick with it; they tend to drop out. We offer extra support and show them that they can do it.”
 
-- Sabbaye McGriff