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EMU’s new National Science Foundation-funded scholarship program preps STEM teachers for 21st century classrooms

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Teacher education majors at Eastern Mennonite University who are preparing for careers teaching in the STEM fields will soon have access to new scholarship funds. EMU is the recipient of a five-year grant from the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

The scholarships, worth $10,000 each year, are available to junior and senior education majors who are earning secondary teaching certifications in biology, chemistry, computer science, or math. 

By the conclusion of the grant, 24 new STEM teachers will be placed in high-need school districts. The grant also includes professional support and development for participants while they are studying at EMU and once the EMU graduates are working in their new positions.

“This grant is unique in that it helps us create a pipeline to recruit and mentor STEM majors towards considering a teaching career, then helps to prepare them to teach in high-needs schools with a unique skillset of content knowledge and restorative justice practices,” said professor of teacher education Paul Yoder, the grant’s principal investigator and director of EMU’s Graduate Teacher Education program. “Once they are hired, we also will support them, all of which we hope leads towards retention of high-quality STEM teachers in our schools.”

The grant team also includes three STEM professors:  Kristopher Schmidt, professor of biology and director of the MS in Biomedicine program ; Daniel Showalter, professor of mathematics; and Laurie Yoder, professor of chemistry. The faculty members will serve as mentors and advisors to pre-service teachers, and coordinate with lead teachers in their respective fields at Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS).

“In a time of critical need for more STEM teachers in K-12 settings, EMU is committed not just to supplying these teachers, but to rooting their education in restorative justice practices,” said Showalter. “This grant allows for an intentional focus on developing teachers who can respond wisely and gracefully in classrooms where growing numbers of students have experienced trauma.”

HCPS, which has a linguistically and culturally diverse student demographic with 66 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, is EMU’s local partner in the grant. 

The program “would be a tremendous asset, resource, and shared effort for our district in helping to meet the needs of students and teachers,” wrote Superintendent Michael Richards

The district will support the grant through mentoring of practicum students, providing STEM educators as guest speakers at EMU events, developing internship opportunities, and creating pathways for EMU students to participate in HCPS STEM outreach activities, according to Richards.

The project strengthens and enhances existing partnerships between EMU and HCPS, Yoder said, including current practicum and student-teaching experiences. HCPS also partners with EMU to provide restorative justice in education (RJE) professional development opportunities, including a cohort-based graduate certificate program for HCPS teachers and staff.

“Teachers who are prepared to implement restorative justice in diverse school settings can help to improve learning outcomes and strengthen school-wide RJE efforts,” Yoder said. 

Yoder says the grant’s multi-year commitment will also provide data for a study on the impact of implementation of RJE-infused curriculum among pre-service and in-service STEM teachers in high-need schools. The EMU professors will look at the ways in which “RJE-infused curriculum helps pre-service and early-career STEM teachers feel prepared to meet the challenges associated with teaching in culturally and linguistically diverse school settings.”

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