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UNG program to boost number of STEM educators

Spraker grant 2016
Dr. Mark Spraker (pictured) is the principal investigator of a project that could bring more highly-qualified STEM teachers to the communities in UNG's service region.

To bolster the number and ability of STEM-prepared secondary education teachers in north Georgia, the University of North Georgia (UNG) will launch a cross-department collaboration this year backed by a $74,979 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The North Georgia Undergraduate Education Program, or NGagE, will involve faculty from the university's departments of physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and education. The project is under the direction of UNG faculty Drs. Mark Spraker, April Nelms and Sanghee Choi.

Information from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission shows that new teacher certification has declined 44 percent in Georgia from the 2007-2008 school year to the 2014-2015 school year.

"This decline has forced substitute teachers into classrooms instead of newly certified teachers and has taken a toll on the STEM discipline specifically, which was already experiencing a deficit in prepared teachers prior to the decline," said Spraker, who is the project's principal investigator, in the proposal. "While the large districts in the Atlanta metro area are not as impacted by this deficit, rural areas are increasingly having difficulty recruiting quality teachers in the STEM disciplines. UNG is in a unique position to serve this need through the NGagE program with campuses in five locations serving 30 of the most northern counties in rural Georgia."

Dr. Rob Brown, superintendent for Lumpkin County Schools, has seen the need first-hand in his school district and said that it could impact schools across Georgia.

"We have experienced a huge shortage in STEM teachers, and we anticipate that in the next few years we will continue to be challenged in finding highly-qualified science and math teachers," Brown said. "As we move into the future, the entire state will face this shortage, especially in math. We need to do everything we can to grow in this area."

The project will aim to meet four specific objectives as it runs from October 2016 through September 2017:

  • assess the program and faculty needs of secondary school administrators within the service region
  • attract and recruit high school upperclassmen, university freshmen, undeclared majors, and practicing professionals to become teachers in a science field utilizing STEM practices in pedagogy and content coursework
  • build partnerships within a Professional Development Community with schools and teachers to facilitate the training and mentoring of preservice teachers
  • successfully prepare preservice teachers through the development of innovative coursework, the use of faculty mentors in the discipline for advising and undergraduate research, the use of industry partners for relevant STEM practices, and the use of other programmatic supports

"This program can strengthen partnerships between surrounding school districts and UNG's College of Education," said Dr. Sheri Hardee, associate dean of UNG's College of Education. "The program fulfills a need for more teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; as noted in Georgia Partnership's Top 10 Issues to Watch, science and mathematics are among our highest need areas, and with fewer students majoring in secondary education, we need programs focused on recruitment and retention. The program also proposes to require more intensive internships, providing our students the opportunity to work with local teachers to implement innovative STEM methods into the classroom."

According to Hardee, those internships will provide a critical learning experience also resulting in mentor teachers and high-school students learning from one another, "refining pathways to success for all involved."

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