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UTeach Arlington receives new $1.5 million Noyce grant

UTeach Arlington co-directors, from left, Greg Hale, Ann Cavallo and Ramon Lopez
UTeach Arlington co-directors, from left, Greg Hale, Ann Cavallo and Ramon Lopez

A new UT Arlington program aimed at bolstering the supply of secondary math and science teachers is already exceeding expectations, with nearly 30 percent more freshmen than expected signing up.

UTeach Arlington teams faculty from the University's College of Science and the College of Education and Health Professions to recruit freshmen and sophomores in science majors who also are interested in a career in teaching. Following a model established at The University of Texas at Austin, UTeach Arlington will provide education-related courses, classroom experience and mentoring to interested students earlier than in past programs.

"There has been a huge demand for qualified math and science teachers in Texas, and that is only being exacerbated by the implementation of the 4-by-4 program that requires four years of math and science for a recommended diploma," said Greg Hale, assistant dean of science and one of the co-directors of UTeach Arlington. "This program addresses that challenge."

Just this week, the National Science Foundation awarded UT Arlington nearly $1.5 million from the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program to help with these efforts. That grant, in addition to a $900,000 Robert Noyce award the University received earlier, will provide $10,000 scholarships for juniors, seniors and graduate students seeking to become state-certified science and math teachers.

Over the past 13 years, the original UTeach at UT Austin has shown success in graduating more math and science teachers. More than 80 percent of UTeach graduates who enter the teaching profession are still teaching in five years.

UT Arlington received a $1.4 million grant in fall 2009 from the UTeach Institute in Austin to start the initiative. Ninety-six freshmen have signed up to take the UTeach program's STEP1 class at UT Arlington this fall, about 20 more than projected.

Along with Hale, co-directors of UTeach Arlington are: Ann Cavallo, professor of science education and associate dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, and Ramon Lopez, a UT Arlington physics professor who served on the advisory council for UT Austin's original program. Cavallo is the principal investigator on the National Science Foundation scholarship grants.

Students who successfully complete the UTeach's STEP 1 and STEP 2 classes are paid a $125 scholarship for each course. The STEP 1 course introduces freshmen math and science majors to teaching as a career. It also puts students in local elementary schools five times during the semester, so they can see first-hand what teaching is like and prepare lessons under the guidance of mentor teachers, Hale said.

Other courses in the UTeach program are devoted to topics like classroom interactions, project-based instruction and research methods. The university has hired two "master teachers" - educators with extensive experience in area schools - to teach the STEP 1 and STEP 2 classes this year and mentor students. Others will be hired later.

"Instruction will focus on research-proven models for highly-effective teaching of math and science, emphasizing inquiry, conceptual understanding and the development of higher level reasoning," Cavallo said. Active, hands-on, inquiry-based teaching has been shown to pique students' interest in STEM fields.

Lopez said the security of a career as a secondary math and science teacher appealed to many who have signed up for UTeach Arlington.

"When students and parents hear that when you come out of school you are definitely going to get a job and there are scholarships available along the way, it starts to make sense," he said.