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Sacred Heart Receives $1.2 Million Grant for New STEM Teacher Program

Eighteen scholars will be prepared to teach science, technology, engineering and math in high-need schools

STEM conference at Sacred Heart University's West Campus in November 2018.

Sacred Heart University has received a 1.2-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program for a new STEM program, in partnership with Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stratford school districts. The program—Scholars Integrating Science Tech Engineering Math in Elementary Classrooms (SISTEMEC)—will prepare 18 scholars over a five-year period to teach STEM in high-need, multicultural elementary schools.

Connecticut and other states across the country are experiencing a shortage of highly qualified elementary STEM teachers who can use the newest practices based on Common Core math and Next Generation Science standards. An article in The Connecticut Mirror (August 2017) reported that “hundreds of teaching positions go unfilled each year because school districts can’t find qualified candidates…The shortage of qualified teachers has meant that thousands of students each year are being taught by long-term substitutes—most of them in the state’s lowest-performing districts.”

The Noyce program responds to this critical need for K-12 teachers of STEM disciplines by encouraging talented STEM students and professionals to pursue teaching careers in elementary and secondary schools. The program awards grants to institutions of higher education to provide scholarships, stipends and program support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers.

SISTEMEC, an interdisciplinary project from SHU, will increase the number and effectiveness of qualified STEM elementary teachers in the local, high-need areas through a revised education curriculum and engagement in service learning and inquiry-based research experiences. The scholars will be better prepared to help their elementary students understand and solve problems holistically, integrating the various STEM perspectives. This will especially aid students in multicultural and high-need classrooms who may need multiple perspectives and reinforcement to improve math and science skills.

“This Noyce STEM grant builds upon our very successful Noyce Biology and Mathematics for Educators scholars grant by allowing us to expand our focus on educating future STEM teachers to the elementary grade levels (K-5). Improving our teachers’ ability to teach STEM disciplines and make interdisciplinary connections between STEM subjects will provide our students with the skills necessary to tackle the ever-changing scientific and technological world that lies ahead,” said Mark Beekey, chair and professor of biology at SHU.

The program will recruit prospective first-year and transfer students, as well as matriculated first- and second-year students, with an emphasis on underrepresented minority students, first-generation college students, lower-income students, and veterans. Scholars earning their Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary STEM and a Master of Arts in teaching will receive financial aid and student support that includes a nine-month graduate teacher internship; faculty advising; a master’s mentoring program (which will pair Noyce scholars in their junior year with a STEM teacher in a high-need school district); and targeted STEM education workshops.

“The SISTEMEC grant represents the best of SHU: an interdisciplinary team of faculty from the Isabelle Farrington College of Education, the College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Computer Science & Engineering in the Jack Welch College of Business, responding to the growing need for STEM-prepared teachers. This opportunity helps SHU continue to grow a sustained vision and interdisciplinary culture for teaching and leading in STEM education” said Kristin Rainville, the program’s principal investigator and associate professor and director of the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching at SHU.

Students interested in this opportunity should email Rainville at rainvillek@sacredheart.edu or (203) 365-7517.