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Noyce Scholars program gets NSF funding to develop STEM teaching

Paul Heideman and his colleagues want William & Mary’s science and math majors to give serious consideration to K-12 STEM teaching.

“Lots of people really enjoy teaching; it’s part of human nature,” he said. “Also, lots of people go to school with the thought that they might enjoy being a teacher. The challenge is to make sure that the people who would enjoy teaching don’t lose that motivation.”

Heideman, the Boles-Ash Distinguished Professor of Biology at William & Mary, is the principal investigator on the university’s Noyce Scholars Program, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. His group received $800,000 in NSF funding for the second phase of the Noyce Scholars, or Noyce II. Part of the program is to identify and recruit prospective STEM teachers from the undergraduates in William & Mary programs in mathematics and natural sciences.

The funding, which begins in June, marks the second five-year go-round for the Noyce Scholars Program at William & Mary. Heideman’s co-PIs on Noyce Scholars II are another scientist, Heather Macdonald, Chancellor Professor of Geology; two faculty of William & Mary’s School of Education, Professor Marguerite Mason and Wakefield Term Distinguished Associate Professor Juanita Jo Matkins; and an administrator, Drew Stejlles, the university’s assistant vice president of community engagement.

The program provides specialized classes and experiences for Noyce Scholars as well as generous financial support for up to two years. In return, Noyce Scholars commit to two years of teaching STEM subjects in a high-need school system for each year of support. “High-need” is often defined as school districts with a high poverty level, but it also can mean school districts with a high teacher turnover as well as schools with a high proportion of teachers who are teaching subjects outside their certification areas. Heideman noted that rural school districts are often categorized as “high-need.”

Heideman said that Phase I of the program resulted in the recruitment of a number of math and science majors and is on track to produce 43 new STEM teachers by May, a number that exceeds the project goal of 39.

“Some of our very best students wound up going into teaching,” he said. “This includes people who otherwise might have lost their interest in teaching and gone another direction.”

 The goals for Noyce II are to continue the recruitment, mentoring and monitoring processes from Noyce I, with an added task of assembling both quantitative and qualitative data to assess the results. Heideman noted that the very first Noyce Scholars will be finishing their first five years of teaching during Noyce II, and Heideman says he hopes to be able to report Noyce Scholars continuing teaching STEM courses past five years. The new Noyce program aims to support 27 more students—19 graduate and eight undergraduate—over the five-year Noyce II funding period.

“One of our goals for Noyce II is to do more research on our student population to try to understand the things that prepare people well and motivate them to become a teacher,” he explained. “And we’re also interested in what motivates them to stay a teacher, especially in high-need schools.”

In addition to the professional satisfaction that comes along with teaching, Heideman said there are a number of tangible benefits that go along with a career teaching science and math.

 “It’s a very flexible career; there are a lot of ways you can go in teaching science and math in middle school and high school,” he said. “And there is a very high demand for science and math teachers. In most places, even when there are teacher cutbacks, well-qualified science and math teachers keep their jobs.”