University of Houston: New UH Program Transforms STEM Pros into STEM Teachers

Some people are born to be teachers, even if early career choices lead them down other paths first. For professionals working in STEM fields, a new University of Houston program offers a fast track to earn a place at the head of a secondary school STEM classroom – and change their own lives in the process.

Applications are currently being accepted for the first cohort of STEMPro, an intensive nine-month alternative teaching certification program and a collaboration between UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and College of Education. The addition of this post-baccalaureate outreach, which focuses on already established professionals, expands the existing teachHOUSTON program, which serves undergraduates seeking teaching certificates. It also supports the UH focus on training quality teachers ready to serve in communities where they are needed most.

The alternative teacher certification approach appeals to professionals already working in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Most inquiries come from mid-career professionals thinking about trading their positions in research labs, hospitals and corporations for the opportunity to spark curiosity about science in a classroom of teens.

“Several of our teachHOUSTON participants have been engineers. One was an engineer who became an entrepreneur and is now a teacher. Another was a physical therapist. We’ve had participants from all backgrounds, including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. The concentration is all over the place, but we see two trends. First, the process draws people who see themselves as teachers. And second, most bring real-life experience from STEM fields into their classrooms,” said Paige K. Evans, mathematics clinical professor and co-director of the teachHOUSTON program. Evans is also the principal investigator of the new STEMPro program, which is funded over five years by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

“STEMPro also will accept recent graduates in STEM fields who seek teaching certificates,” Evans said. The program’s nine-month concentration on classroom skills frees participants from dividing attention between their education studies and their core science courses, which can be equally demanding. Instead, they hone their teaching skills with 500 in-classroom hours, more than most traditional programs can provide.

“From the very beginning of this innovative new program, the main focus for students will be on becoming outstanding teachers. That means they won’t have to divert attention to any requirements for their science specialty, but rather concentrate on developing their skills in the classroom,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

For many, grants from the program and stipends for their student-teaching experience make it possible to make the transition while still supporting their own households.

“The program provides a scholarship that pays tuition. Plus, we partnered with area schools that offer paid student-teaching residencies. These funds – $20,000 from the districts and $11,000 from the program – make it possible for many to take this step in refocusing their life’s work,” Evans said.

An important goal of the program, and a main focus of the NSF grant, is outreach to communities most in need of teachers able to spark inspiration about science.

“Our curriculum is inquiry-based and culturally responsive. We match the needs of our diverse community by training highly professional STEM teachers skilled in working well with diverse students in high-need schools. That’s one of our most important goals,” Evans said.

STEMPro’s inaugural class starts in fall 2022 with about 30 participants. Interested professionals and recent science graduates can learn more about this path to the classroom by clicking here.

Joining Evans as the project’s co-principal investigators are UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics colleagues Jacqueline Ekeoba, lecturer; Rebecca Forrest, instructional professor; Ramona Mateer, lecturer; and Leah McAlister-Shields, lecturer; and Virginia Rangel, assistant professor, UH College of Education.

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