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UNCW Receives Nearly $300,000 NSF Noyce Capacity Building Grant for STEM Teacher Education Program

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The National Science Foundation (NSF) logo

There is a significant need for science and math teachers throughout the U.S., and a growing need for professionals qualified to teach in the integrated areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). UNCW plans to meet this need through the development of a secondary level STEM teacher education program. The program will be developed by the Watson College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, with support from engineers at NC State University.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), through the Noyce Foundation, is funding the project titled “Integrated Certificate in STEM Education (INCISE).” A $299,974 capacity building NSF grant for the project was awarded to UNCW in July.

The development effort will get underway in January, and the university plans to open enrollment to the program in fall 2017.

The goal of the program is to prepare participants to teach integration of important concepts across STEM disciplines in order to prepare future students to enter the workforce with the skills needed to solve complex, global problems.

“Today, schools are asked to prepare students for STEM careers, but teachers are developed in the core content areas of science and math, with overlying support provided in the areas of technology and engineering. In the future, the curriculum should be integrated rather than siloed,” said Mahnaz Moallem, professor in the Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education at the Watson College and principal investigator (PI) for the INCISE project.

UNCW is taking a collaborative approach to the project, she said.  A large team, comprised of faculty from across the university, STEM professionals and educators in the field, has been assembled to ensure that the teacher education program will address needs in schools and in the workplace.

In addition to Moallem, Carol McNulty, Chris Gordon, Gabriel Lugo, Sridhar Narayan, Gene Tagliarini and Amy Reamer are also principal investigators on the INCISE grant. McNulty is associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the Watson College, Gordon is assistant director of UNCW’s Center for Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CESTEM), Lugo is an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at UNCW, Narayan and Tagliarini are professors in UNCW’s Department of Computer Science, and Amy Reamer is engineering adjunct faculty at NC State.

Seven scientists and educators on the faculty at UNCW will assist in curriculum design and development. They are Sridhar Varadarajan, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Russ Herman, professor of physics and mathematics, Stuart Borrett, associate professor of biology and marine biology, Dennis Kubasko, associate professor of secondary science education, Angelia Reid-Griffin, associate professor of middle grade science education and Shelby Morge, associate professor of middle grade mathematics. UNCW academic leaders including Ron Vetter, Martin Posey, Cecil Willis and Sue Kezios have also made a strong commitment to the project.

UNCW received 30 letters of support for the program from school districts and businesses. Future employers, including school superintendents from eight counties and administrators from three community colleges, are part of the planning and development team. Additional participants include Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, SEGS Academy, Old River Farms and Cape Fear Museum.

Under terms of the grant, the development team will establish a conceptual framework by summer 2015, and design an undergraduate STEM teacher education program by spring 2017. The innovative career pathway will be offered to incoming freshmen at UNCW in fall 2017. An integrated STEM certificate program for secondary math, science, engineering and technology teachers and mid-career STEM professionals will also be developed.

A shared objective of faculty collaborating on the project is to reduce the number of credit hours required to graduate with both a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and a teaching license from the Watson College. Heavy course requirements in the two colleges are currently a deterrent to students considering a secondary level teaching career. The professors hope restructuring the requirements will enable them to attract more high quality STEM educators to the profession.

Moallem said there are very few programs in the U.S. that offer a high level of STEM integration and UNCW hopes the program will become a model for the nation.

“In the future, teachers will need to develop learning activities that integrate math, science and computing so they can prepare students to see problems at an integrated level and solve them using consolidated disciplines,” she said.

Moallem acknowledged that the timeline for program development is aggressive, but said the team believes it is realistic because there is strong support for the project across the university and the UNC system and from educators in the field.

“School leaders recognize the need for high quality STEM teachers and especially professionals who can teach across disciplines,” she said. “Our partnering schools are very supportive of our efforts to develop an integrated STEM teacher education program to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the region.”

Initial efforts will focus on the development of an integrated certificate in STEM education at the secondary level. In the future, UNCW hopes to expand the program to include educators in grades K-12.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote achievement and progress in science and engineering. For more information, visit www.nsf.gov