Appalachian receives $1.165 million to address teacher shortage

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The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Appalachian State University recently received a $1.165 million grant from the National Science Foundation, designed to help address a shortage of math and science teachers in rural communities.

According to Tracie Salinas, the lead grant writer and project director for the grant, a decrease in math and science educators is a growing trend, and one that’s especially prevalent in rural areas.

“Many people talk about a teacher crisis that’s inevitable because of shortages,” Salinas said. “And the places where we especially see that is in very high need schools that don’t have the extra funding or aren’t in the communities that have the resources to be able to draw on well-qualified math and science teachers.”

To try to counteract this problem, the grant will provide scholarships to math and science majors who aren’t currently enrolled in an education program for them to take additional teaching classes and receive their teaching license when they graduate. The grant also includes hiring professional mentors to provide hands-on experience for the students.

As part of the program, the students will also be taken to professional workshops to help further acquaint them with how the school system works.

“We’ll be taking [the students] to professional meetings such as the Mathematics Association of America, the Local North Carolina Teachers of Mathematics, those sorts of things,” said Tracy Goodson-Espy, one of the lead investigators of the grant writing process. “It’s important that they’re supported, not just in their education, but becoming a professional educator.”

The program will be available to junior and senior undergraduate students, as well as graduate students at Appalachian State. The scholarships will be for $10,000 per year, for up to three years of financial support.

Salinas stressed that the students will not have to change concentrations within their major to receive the teaching licensure.

“We aren’t advertising just one type of licensure pathway because a student who comes from one angle opposed to another angle might be in a completely different position,” Salinas said. “So the process will vary depending on where the students are.”

One stipulation of the program is that for every year a student accepts the scholarship money, they need to spend two years teaching in a rural North Carolina community.

The application for the grant will involve a GPA requirement, an essay, a set of recommendations and interviews with a selection committee.

“We want to pick the most qualified folks who have a passion for teaching,” Salinas said.

Salinas doesn’t believe that the students in the program will be affected by their prior lack of teaching experience.

“There are lots of great teachers who come to teaching after a full career in chemistry, in the lab, or in engineering after coming back from the military, or something else of that nature,” Salinas said.

According to Salinas, the first set of students will be selected in November and the program will begin the following semester. She said they plan on accepting 10 students this semester and steadily increasing that number over the upcoming years.

This grant is a part of the Robert Noyce Teaching Scholarship Program, which is a national movement to address the shortage of math and science teachers.

A number of universities in North Carolina have similar programs, but Appalachian State’s is unique because of the emphasis on rural high-need communities.

“The local aspect is important because of who we are,” said Anthony Calamai, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Appalachian’s history is we were established as a school over 100 years ago to provide education for the local teachers of rural North Carolina, so this really gets back to who we are fundamentally.”

Calamai urged math and science students to consider becoming a teacher, not just to counteract the shortage of teachers in those fields, but also for their own benefit.

“Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers you can have,” Calamai said. “It gives you opportunities, and also allows for self-determination. You can use your science background for the good of society and enjoy some autonomy in how it gets done.”

Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter