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Athens State, Alabama A&M lead the way in producing Valley STEM teachers

ATHENS — Athens State University is Ground Zero in Alabama’s effort to produce college graduates who have qualified to receive a teacher certification while, at the same time, earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject.

This program is simply referred to as UTEACH and is designed to ease a major teaching
shortage in Alabama and across the nation for teachers who have demonstrated an interest
entering subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Athens State has long been a leading destination for prospective education majors, but the
university has taken its programming to new heights with a recent grant from the National
Science Foundation and an appropriation from the Alabama Legislature.

Athens State is one of two colleges in the Tennessee Valley that is helping lead Alabama’s
efforts in this crucial effort to grow qualified STEM teachers. The other university in the Valley is Alabama A&M. There are seven universities across the state involved in the UTEACH program which have been appropriated money from Alabama’s Education Trust Fund to establish the multiyear program.

Education officials hope that within four years the critical shortage of STEM teachers will no
longer exist. The participating universities in Alabama’s UTECH program are expected to
produce 250 new STEM teachers annually, according to Lee Meadows, executive director of the Alabama STEM Council.

Athens State University’s College of Education has adopted the UTEACH model calling the
program Athens State Teach. The university received a $2 million legislative appropriation from the state of Alabama to help develop this innovative program. Meanwhile, ASU’s College of Arts & Sciences was awarded a $650,000 NSF grant to increase STEM degree completion of low-income and high achieving undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need.

Athens State TEACH will encourage students who are working on a STEM degree to “try out” teaching, according to Dr. Patricia Glaze, Athens State’s TEACH co-director and associate professor of mathematics.

“We will also offer the Athens State TEACH introductory courses at several community colleges, strengthening our partnerships with them and reaching students earlier in their coursework,” she said. “Our new condensed education minor leads to secondary teaching certification, which offers more options for our graduates.”

The Athens State Teach program will also provide scholarships to STEM students and the
program also allows hiring of faculty and staff to supplement instructors for STEM students and recruiting efforts by Athens State.

The program launched this summer, according to Dr. Katherine Kandalec-Holm, interim dean for Athens State University’s College of Education. Athens State is one of 55 programs in the nation to implement the program.

“The STEM education curricula has been redesigned totally,” she said. “These students are
being exposed to classroom teaching experiences much earlier; in their first couple of semesters.”

She said Athens State is also offering two one-hour courses at two-year schools in the Valley – Northwest Alabama, Calhoun Community College and Wallace State. She said that
also helps as it allows more potential students in education to get classroom experience earlier, as well.

“The cooperation we received from the two-year school system allowed us to be able to add those courses to the state catalogue, which helped raise the awareness of the program,” Kandalec-Holm said. “An important factor is that this program is available at no cost to the student. The students I have talked to are very excited about participating in Athens State Teach.”

Alabama A&M is providing additional internship opportunities for STEM students, thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The three-year, $700,000 Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) award will be used to fund activities leading to more academic support, student research and professional development at AAMU.

MSEIP assists predominately minority institutions in producing long-range improvement in
science and engineering education programs and increasing the flow of underrepresented
ethnic minorities, particularly minority women, into science and engineering careers.

“This outstanding experience will significantly help the students in their professional
development and future career,” said principal investigator and Professor of Mechanical
Engineering Dr. Showkat Chowdhury. “This MSEIP project will improve students’ learning
outcomes and success in STEM disciplines at Alabama A&M University and strengthen the
institutional efforts to enhance minority undergraduate STEM student success, retention and graduation.”

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