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UW Receives $1.2 Million NSF Award to Train 70 New Wyoming Certified Math and Science Teachers


October 15, 2013 — Over the next five years, the University of Wyoming will work to bolster and diversify Wyoming’s pool of secondary school mathematics and science teachers with “swarms” of collaborative training.

UW received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Award worth nearly $1.2 million to certify 70 new mathematics and science teachers in Wyoming during the next five years. The award is titled Sustaining Wyoming’s Advancing Reach in Mathematics and Science (SWARMS).

The collaborative project is a partnership among four distinct groups -- UW, Northwest College, military partners and high-need partner school districts -- that will work together during the 2014-19 effort. At UW, collaborators are the College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (SMTC). Military partners include the UW Office of Veteran Services, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming National Guard and Wyoming Air National Guard. High-need partner school districts include those in Big Horn, Fremont, Goshen, Hot Springs, Laramie, Natrona, Uinta and Washakie counties.

“The official start date is Jan. 15, 2014,” says Andrea Burrows, a UW assistant professor of secondary education and the principal investigator for the grant award. “SWARMS will allow us to find students who have, or are working toward STEM degrees, who wish to gain a teaching certification.”

Sabrina Cales, a former UW Science Posse graduate fellow and doctoral candidate in physics and astronomy, works with an alternate energy unit -- a water wheel made out of a K’NEX toy construction set -- at Snowy Range Academy in Laramie.The goal of the Noyce award is to increase the number of qualified science and mathematics certified teachers by targeting individuals with strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) backgrounds. SWARMS will draw upon three distinct groups: undergraduate seniors, graduates of STEM fields (such as chemistry, earth science, engineering, mathematics and physics) and military veterans with relevant STEM backgrounds. Noyce scholarship recipients are funded while working toward Wyoming teaching certificates, and they are required to dedicate time toward teaching in high-need schools once they have attained certification.

“It needs to be in a high-needs school. That could mean low socio-economic status, teachers teaching out of their field, or there could be a high turnover of teachers at the school,” Burrows says. “Many schools in Wyoming could be classified as a high-need school in some category.”

Persons with STEM degrees -- who agree to teach a minimum two years in one of these high-need Wyoming schools -- will have their post-baccalaureate education (tuition and fees) paid for through the Noyce grant, Burrows says. Undergraduate students pursuing STEM careers, who agree to teach a minimum of four years, will have their tuition and fees paid for during their senior year of college, as well as during their post-baccalaureate education.

Burrows would ideally like to see three UW seniors, eight STEM graduates and three military veterans comprise the pool each year. During the first year, those cohort numbers will be 11 STEM graduates and three military veterans, she says. Because recruiting for the Noyce scholarship will begin in January 2014, when the grant first becomes active, Burrows says she will have to start recruiting “in the junior pool” to find senior STEM candidates for the following year.

“We’re also hoping to find students at Northwest College who would like to come finish their degree at UW in a STEM field,” Burrows says. “Students can come on board with SWARMS their senior year and get into the post-baccalaureate program after that.”

“The connections that Northwest College students feel with the local community and their home communities are strong. This grant provides a connection with the University of Wyoming as well, allowing our students at Northwest College to have a clear and more seamless transition to university life,” says Paul Escoto, an instructor of mathematics at Northwest College and a co-principal investigator on the grant. “Many may then return to communities throughout Wyoming, imparting the benefit of their education, and inspiring others, in turn, to pursue higher education.”

In addition, SWARMS seeks to certify new teachers with a STEM background. The hope is to build a culturally diverse pool of future science and mathematics teachers, Burrows says.

Of the total grant budget, 75 percent goes directly to fund scholarships. The other 25 percent is used to cover costs associated with travel to present at conferences (students and faculty), recruitment, funding a graduate student researcher and participant compensation, Burrows says.

In addition to Burrows and Escoto, a number of UW faculty members collaborated on this grant. They are: Tim Slater, professor of secondary education and the UW Endowed Chair of Science Education, and an adjunct faculty member in physics and astronomy; Daniel Dale, professor of physics and astronomy; Farhad Jafari, professor and head of the Department of Mathematics; Linda Hutchison, associate professor of secondary education; Jackie Leonard, professor of elementary and early childhood education, and director of the SMTC; Adam Myers, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Bridget Decker, an assistant lecturer of chemistry.

Slater, Dale, Jafari and Escoto serve as co-principal investigators on the grant. Hutchison, Leonard, Myers and Decker are senior personnel for the grant.

“It’s a great opportunity for Wyoming and students in Wyoming,” Burrows says. “Not only for UW students, but for students in K-12 schools.”

For more information about the NSF SWARMS Noyce Award, go to www.uwswarms.org.

Photo:
Students in Andrea Burrows’ Science Methods II class work through an engineering design process of how to build a working miniature roller coaster. Students (from left) are Debbie French, a doctoral student in science education from Uhrichsville, Ohio, who works with Burrows as a graduate assistant; Jamie Henry, a senior biology education major from Jackson; Shaleas Harrison, a biology education post-baccalaureate student from Powell; Haley Brown, a senior earth science education major from Laramie; and Jared Krysl, a senior chemistry education major from Cheyenne. (Andrea Burrows Photo)

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