NevadaTeach set to make significant impact on secondary STEM education

University cross-college collaboration, active student recruitment and support, compact and flexible degree plans, and early and intensive field teaching experience set this national UTeach program apart as the gold standard in secondary STEM education

Secondary STEM teacher education is set to make a dramatic shift at the University of Nevada, Reno this fall.


4/29/2015 | By: Nicole Shearer  |

An important shift in preparing secondary teachers in science, technology, engineering and math is taking place at the University of Nevada, Reno. The University officially launched NevadaTeach, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, a national UTeach expansion program, with the intent to recruit college students studying STEM subjects into secondary teaching careers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields and there is an "inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects." The National Math + Science Initiative, the institution facilitating the UTeach expansion program, says experts estimate the country will need 100,000 more math and science teachers by 2020, just five years from now.  

Recognizing this critical need for qualified STEM teachers not only nationally, but also in the state, the University will change the way seventh grade through high school mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology teachers are prepared starting in the Fall 2015 semester through NevadaTeach.  

Currently, the University's College of Education oversees the certification and teaching of secondary educators in all disciplines. With NevadaTeach, cross-college collaboration between the University's College of Education, College of Engineering and College of Science has been put in place for one comprehensive, interdisciplinary program.  

"The current undergraduate secondary program for these subjects will be phased out over the next four years as students who have already begun the current program move to completion," Robert Quinn, NevadaTeach co-director and University College of Education faculty member, said. "We believe the UTeach program model will best prepare our students who are interested in teaching in STEM fields. Based on national data, we know UTeach program model students are more likely to stay in teaching and do so because of the mastery they've gained in their major's subject which gives them significant depth in what they will be teaching."  

UTeach national retention data shows approximately 88 percent of UTeach graduates go on to teach in math and science classrooms, often in high need schools, and five years later, 80 percent are still in schools, compared to 65 percent nationally.  

So what is it that makes this STEM teacher preparation program so different?  

"Right out of college, students will have two career choices," Ken Coll, University dean of the College of Education, said. "This program provides preparation for full teaching certification without added cost or time for students earning math or science degrees. Graduates will have more flexibility and more job options."  

Other aspects that make the UTeach model so successful are attributed to the experienced faculty teaching the courses and the early field experience given to students.  

The NevadaTeach program will have two master teachers recognized for their secondary STEM teaching expertise. They will help guide students through their coursework and practice sessions. Master teachers will also help the University establish additional relationships within the school district and in secondary STEM classrooms.  

"These are teachers with major credibility in their field," Quinn said. "Master teachers have excelled in secondary STEM teaching and thoroughly understand both the subjects they've taught as well as the pedagogy around each subject."

With guidance from their master teachers, NevadaTeach students will experience real-world classrooms immediately as they begin teaching elementary school classes during their first semester.  

"By placing University students in the classroom almost immediately, they are not only able to gain meaningful context for their coursework, but are also able to decide early on in the process if classroom teaching is the right fit for them," Regina Tempel, NevadaTeach co-director and College of Science associate dean, said. "NevadaTeach students will teach a variety of age groups before they graduate, which offers them a realistic understanding of what to expect in the classroom. Just as importantly, they gain a solid foundation in their chosen subject matter."  

Many first-year University students have already expressed interest in the program.  

"I love math and have always thought I'd like to try teaching," Oscar Chavira, University freshman and current mining engineering major, said. "NevadaTeach allows me to get a degree in both, which would open up more doors for me and potentially allow me to explore additional opportunities in different settings."  

This national UTeach program expansion was made possible by a $22.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Selected to be part of the grant, the University will receive $1.45 million during a five-year grant period to support implementation costs of the program. The grant was awarded to the National Math and Science Initiative in 2013 to support expansion of the UTeach program to 10 research universities.  

The University is the first to implement this UTeach program model in the region, however this award is part of a vision for a statewide collaboration. Both Nevada State College and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have expressed interest in becoming a part of the UTeach program as well.

"When we accomplish this, we will be the first state in the nation to have a statewide UTeach program initiative," University Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Carman said. "The program has already received endorsement from the presidents and provosts of these institutions as well as by the Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor and Board of Regents."

With the latest expansion, UTeach will be implemented in 44 universities across 21 states and the District of Columbia. Collectively, UTeach programs at these universities are expected to produce an estimated 8,300 secondary math and science teachers who will teach a projected 4.8 million students by 2020.

"Nevada Teach provides a significant opportunity in education, which is to address both pedagogy and knowledge content," University President Marc Johnson said. "The Governor's Office of Economic Development has identified advanced manufacturing as the future path of economic development for northern Nevada. More comprehensive STEM education will contribute to workforce development to meet these goals."

People interested in learning more about NevadaTeach can visit unr.edu/nevadateach.

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