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By Paul Bradley  /  
2014 January 20 - 12:00 am

COVER STORY: Filling the STEM Pipeline

AP Photo 
Gisell Garcia builds a robot at a STEM summer camp at Chattanooga State Community College. The camp is designed to boost interest in the STEM fields.

COVER STORY: 

Filling the STEM Pipeline
NSF’s Noyce Program Steers Science Scholars into Teaching Careers
By Paul Bradley

The legacy of Robert Noyce has been secure for decades. But at a time when the country is trying to cultivate a new crop of teachers, it’s taking on new currency.

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Noyce was once known as “the mayor of Silicon Valley.” Long before a stretch of Northern California earned the “Silicon Valley” moniker, Noyce was one of the first scientists to work in the area. He ran two of the companies that had the greatest impact on the silicon industry: Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. He is credited with inventing the integrated chip, one of the stepping stones to the microprocessors which power today’s computers.

He was a mentor to innovators such as Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers. Noyce also created the informal yet demanding work atmosphere that now characterizes high tech giants like Google.

Noyce died in 1990, but his name lives on. A program bearing his name — the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program — is a signature effort of the National Science Foundation to prepare a new generation of math and science teachers. The program seeks to increase the number of K-12 teachers with strong STEM content knowledge who teach in high-need school districts.

Founded in 2002, and last reauthorized by Congress in 2010, the program provides funding to colleges and universities to provide scholarships, stipends, and programmatic support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become teachers in high-need areas.

A 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology called for a renewed commitment to STEM education.

“STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations and whether we will be able to solve immense challenges in such areas as energy, health, environmental protection, and national security,” the report said. “It will help produce the capable and flexible workforce needed to compete in a global marketplace.”

Among other things, the report called for the recruitment and training of 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade. The report said the teachers should have both deep content knowledge in the STEM fields and the mastery of pedagogical skills to teach the subjects well.

The Noyce Program seeks to encourage talented STEM majors to become math and science teachers. In return for the financial support, scholarship recipients agree to spend two years teaching in high-need school districts — typically urban areas or rural schools experiencing a dearth of science and math teachers — for each year they receive support.

Currently, there are about 3,700 teachers who were supported by the Noyce program and are now teaching in classrooms around the country, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS partners with the NSF in to identify and disseminate information about effective practices and strategies for attracting, selecting, and preparing new K-12 STEM teachers and retaining them in the STEM teacher workforce.

Community colleges are a critical part of the Noyce program. Part of the program provides NSF grants support the transfer of students from community colleges to four-year institutions, giving them financial support for their junior and senior years.

Community colleges are considered a natural fit for the program. The colleges often are located in high-need communities, and prospective teachers often return to those communities to teach.

Catawba College, in Salisbury, N.C., received a $1.45 million NSF Noyce Scholars grant in 2012. The program brings together Catawba College, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the local public school system to focus on the recruitment, preparation and retention of STEM majors into teaching careers. The effort blends academic preparation, professional community-building and field experiences.

The project supports 18 STEM majors with $18,000 scholarships in their junior and senior years of college to pursue both a STEM credential and a teaching license.

Payden Mitchell is among the college’s first cohort of Noyce Scholars. He entered Catawba College as last fall after earning an associate degree from Rowan Cabarrus Community College, according to a news release issued by Catawba College. He is among six students who applied for and received a Noyce scholarship; three of the students are community college transfers.

Mitchell, who is majoring in environmental education, has signed an agreement to complete his major and the teacher education program to gain licensure. He’s also agreed to complete his work teaching in a high need school district within eight years of his graduation from Catawba.

Mitchell said the financial assistance this scholarship provided “made Catawba much more affordable and assured my decision to come here.”

“I think that being a Noyce Scholar is a fantastic experience to be a part of,” Mitchell said. “It is a win/win situation for anyone looking to become an educator. It leads to great leadership and teamwork abilities as well.”

The University of California Santa Cruz received a $1.45 million Noyce grant last year. The grants will support partnerships between the university, seven community colleges and four high-need school districts. The grant provide up to 10 transfer students with three years of scholarship support to complete their undergraduate degree, plus a teacher credential program. An additional 32 students will receive one year of scholarship support for the credential program.

“We have had success so far putting good math and science teachers in schools around the region, and the new Noyce Scholarship funds will help us collaborate effectively with the community colleges,” said Gretchen Andreasen, principal investigator of the UCSC grant.

The program is academically demanding. Noyce Scholars must maintain a high GPA and make adequate progress toward degree completion by the end of the scholarship award period. They are required to take part in leadership retreats, a mentoring program, take part in a research internship and field activities and complete all necessary evaluations and surveys.

Following graduation, the scholars receive continued mentoring and financial support as they enter the classroom. As classroom teachers, Noyce Scholars receive funds to attend a state STEM education conferences and to purchase classroom supplies.

Noyce Scholars praise the program. Ashton Pryor graduated from RCCC before entering Catawba College. Pryor, a biology major, said he feels fortunate to be a Noyce Scholar.

“I knew I wanted to study science and was leaning toward a career in education, but the Noyce Scholarship gave me the final nudge to commit,” he said. “I advise STEM majors with no career goals to seriously consider a career in education and apply for the Noyce Scholarship. It can finance your way through school, give you opportunities for professional development, and enable you to serve your community in a very meaningful way.”

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