Another academic year is underway, and we are one step closer to 2020. That is the predicted date when three-fourths of the jobs in Arkansas will require advanced skills in science, technology, engineering or mathematics: the STEM disciplines. In preparation for this transformation, more of our schools are employing the STEM Works Program.
High school students who prepare early, by becoming involved in STEM career clusters, will develop an invaluable head start in securing the high-skill, high-wage, high-demand jobs of the times we live in.
Launched in 2011, the program's hallmarks include hands-on learning that involves technology, student-led teams and a project-based approach to teaching STEM subjects. Of course, this approach requires qualified teachers in STEM subjects, but, unfortunately, there is a shortage of these educators nationwide. That's why an essential component of the program, called UTeach, focuses on developing qualified teachers to fill this critical need.
The UTeach program began in 1997 at the University of Texas at Austin as a way of introducing undergraduate math, science, and computer-science majors to secondary teaching. By 2006, the UTeach Institute was established to replicate and improve the program at universities nationwide. Today, the Institute partners with 35 universities in 17 states, including Arkansas.
The UTeach goals in Arkansas are to recruit, train and increase the retention of STEM teachers; to increase the number and diversity of students seeking teacher licensure; and to develop these students into teacher-leaders in their respective fields. Three institutions – the University of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the University of Central Arkansas – are using this innovative program, which combines in-depth science or mathematics education with teacher preparation.
Traditionally, one significant barrier to attracting science and mathematics majors into teaching has been the requirement of an additional year of coursework. But through the UTeach program, students can graduate in four years with both a bachelor's degree and a license to teach science or math in grades 7 to 12. This is made possible through the combination of individualized coaching, intensive teaching experiences in K-12 classrooms, and relevant STEM content. This allows each student's knowledge and skills to develop at an accelerated rate.
Graduates of the UTeach program have added incentives, including more career options. Those who become math and science teachers can obtain federal student loan forgiveness through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. And students who plan to start college next fall each have the chance to win one of three $5,000 scholarship packages through a new contest.
To enter, students create an online video, 15 seconds long or less, that demonstrates a STEM concept. Winners receive a $2,500 tuition credit at UA, UCA, or UALR; a $1,500 laptop; a $750 book voucher; and a $250 graphic calculator. Complete details can be found at UTeachArkansas.org.
Changing our education standards and our economy by meeting the demand for STEM graduates begins with qualified teachers. Graduates of UTeach programs nationwide are projected to educate more than 4.8 million secondary students by 2020. Those students, thanks to the instruction of their newly trained teachers, will be well prepared to take one of the many high-skilled jobs that currently are in demand across the country.