UL-Lafayette lands grant to boost math, science teaching

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been awarded a nearly $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to recruit and develop math and science majors into highly-qualified middle and high school teachers.

The objective is to prepare undergraduate students proficient in math or the sciences for careers as teachers as a way to boost the number of high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers in middle and high schools, said Peter Sheppard, head of the department of curriculum and instruction at UL-Lafayette.

The program, called “Strengthening Teacher Education through Mathematics & Science Teaching Scholars in Louisiana,” targets college-level juniors and seniors majoring in math or one of the sciences and who might be interested in acquiring teacher certification while they earn their degree.

“We want to increase the number of math and science teachers who are skillful and relish opportunities to work with students who have hidden or unmet potential in the STEM areas,” Sheppard said.

Students in the program will receive stipends of up to $11,700 each year, up to three years. They’ll also receive support from teacher mentors as they complete their undergraduate degree and certification. Program participants will receive continued support from retirees during their first few years as classroom teachers.

That kind of support during a new teacher’s first years is vital, Sheppard said.

“A common finding in education research is that within the first three years of teaching that a significant number of teachers actually decide not to continue in the profession,” Sheppard said.

“Part of that is because they don’t necessarily get the kind of support that they need during those first two or three years,” he said. “I think our retirees will provide that kind of support mechanism.”

Because the university was notified shortly before the start of the semester, recruitment for the program is just beginning.

The new program complements an existing $1.8 million NSF-grant program to provide additional professional development to middle school math teachers.

The middle school math teacher program is designed as a way to build interest among younger students in the STEM disciplines. A group of 13 teachers from Lafayette, Iberia and Vermilion parishes participated in the program and next week will become among the first in the state to receive certification as elementary math specialists.

As part of that program, the teachers produce an intensive math camp for middle school students. The UL-Lafayette undergraduate students selected for the new program will also work with the middle school students during the camp sessions.

Undergraduates interested in the program may contact Sheppard at (337) 482-1514 or be email: pas3457@louisiana.edu.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.