Austin College has been awarded a $1.2 million Noyce grant from the National Science Foundation for the Austin College STEM Education Leadership Scholars program (ACSELS). The program aims to increase the number of STEM-certified graduates from the Austin Teacher Program (ATP) who will then enter teaching positions in high-need districts.
“Austin College is honored to receive the Noyce grant,” said Dr. Sheila Gutierrez de Piñeres , executive vice president of Academic Affairs and special initiatives, and dean of faculty. The NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program is named for the co-inventor of the microchip and is intended to facilitate training of teachers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
“Austin College ATP has a long history of developing teachers who benefit from an integrated liberal arts program,” Piñeres said. “Now the need is great for STEM teachers, and this grant will help combine the strong features of the College’s STEM focus and faculty with the existing strengths of ATP to fill that need.”
The project proposes to provide scholarship support for 11 future STEM teachers beginning as early as their junior year at Austin College. Scholarship recipients must complete a major or be degreed in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematical discipline and pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Scholars will be awarded up to $12,500 for the junior year, $25,000 for the senior year, and $40,000 for the graduate year in the ATP.
“Our hope is that area students and community college students will consider Austin College as a financially viable option for a teaching degree,” said Dr. Sandy Philipose, associate professor of education. “The financial assistance will ease the burden of loans and make it feasible to ultimately work in high-need districts.”
The Noyce scholarship program also intends to attract STEM students who may not have considered teaching and expose them to the work. The program includes a hands-on January Term course in which they will have the opportunity to teach science and math lessons and activities in local schools, and also opportunities for Austin College science and math students to serve as paid tutors for local middle and high school students.
Area school districts, including Sherman Independent School District, Denison Independent School District, and Whitesboro Independent School District, and others are interested in the ACSELS pipeline to fill the need for STEM teachers in rural areas. The respective superintendents and college presidents from Grayson College, Collin College, and North Central Texas College provided statements of support in the grant application to the National Science Foundation as the grant allows Austin College to strengthen their connection and help transfer students from community colleges.
“Ideally, the selected scholars will include students from groups traditionally under-represented in STEM education fields,” Philipose said. “Then, they in turn can support and mentor younger students in these groups in the future.”
In addition to financial support, the ACSELS program delivers a three-part plan including leadership training, summer internships in a co-curricular educational environment, and one-on-one faculty and teacher mentoring.
Austin College’s current STEM Teaching and Research program (STAR) develops leadership essential to working in these fields through targeted lab and classroom activities. The ACSELS program will add another layer that supports teacher leaders by developing skills such as team planning, data-based decision making, and cultural sensitivity.
Philipose said, “The Noyce scholars agree to teach in underserved, high-need schools for the early years of their teaching careers. With training in STEM and educational leadership, we are confident they will be prepared to best serve the students in their classrooms.”
Each scholar will then have to apply their leadership skills by serving as a paid intern in a STEM educational setting such as the Heard Museum in McKinney, Texas, or the Duke TIP program conducted each summer on the Austin College campus.
The scholars will have targeted mentoring from both the STEM faculty and the education faculty from the selection to graduation to help through their undergraduate and ATP graduate courses. The mentoring continues after graduation and into early teaching careers for successful transition into the classroom.
“We know that about 50 percent of teachers leave the field in the first five years of teaching, so the mentoring support helps give candidates a strong foundation and some additional support as they transition into those key first classroom experiences,” Philipose said.
Developers of the grant proposal include Philipose and Dr. Kelynne Reed, professor of biology; Dr. Stephanie L. Gould, associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Andrea Overbay, assistant professor of mathematics; Dr. Andrew Carr, associate professor of chemistry, and Amanda Kisselle, executive director of admissions.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of 1,250 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 12:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.