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A True Team Effort

Faculty and Staff Members Obtain a $1.2 Million Grant for Science and Mathematics

photos by Robert Amsler

Throughout the past decade, the number of math and science educators in the United States has been on the decline, threatening the nation’s role as a leader in technology development and scientific research.

To help combat this downturn, St. Joseph’s College has stepped up its efforts to prepare its students for careers in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In August 2011, those efforts yielded a significant payoff — a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

This remarkable accomplishment will provide scholarships of approximately $10,000 to at least 25 SJC undergraduate and graduate students from both Brooklyn and Long Island who are pursuing careers as secondary math and science teachers in high-need schools. The funds will also be used to provide new educational resources and opportunities for professional development.

Obtaining this grant was the result of a collaborative effort by more than a dozen faculty and staff members from both campuses, primarily from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, with contributions from the Departments of Secondary Education, Biology and Chemistry, as well as the Office of Institutional Advancement.

This was the third grant obtained by this group and awarded to SJC by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Over the past decade, funds from previous grants were used to encourage students from under-represented groups to major in computing, the sciences and mathematics; to enhance the College’s computer science and mathematics programs; to award scholarships to students who had residual financial need; and to fund programs related to the recruitment and retention of these students through graduation.

“One of the College’s goals is to support educational programs and services that contribute to the vitality of the communities served by the Brooklyn and Long Island campuses,” said William McAllister, professor of mathematics and computer science on the Long Island Campus.

“This grant helps us to accomplish that goal by funding the educational development of highly qualified teachers committed to teaching in high-need school districts.”

With funds from the Noyce grant, SJC created the STEM EMPOWERS (Encourages, Mentors and Prepares Others With Educational Resources and Scholarships) program for students majoring in STEM fields. The program recruits potential teachers with strong skills in mathematics or science who may not have chosen a career in K-12 teaching, especially women and under-represented minorities. It provides scholarships for up to 47 juniors and seniors majoring in the sciences and mathematics, and six students in the M.A. in Mathematics Education degree program.

In addition, STEM EMPOWERS will provide paid summer internships for a handful of students, opportunities to participate in research programs, educational resources and academic support, while preparing and mentoring students for teaching in 21st-century classrooms. Following the completion of their coursework, Robert Noyce Scholarship students will teach two years in a high-need secondary school for each year of scholarship funds they receive.

The grant will bring funding to the Brooklyn and Long Island communities served by SJC. In addition, it will supply qualified professionals in the fields of mathematics and sciences, which are currently cited by the federal government as areas of national need.

“A good education requires quality instruction in mathematics and science,” said David Seppala-Holtzman, Ph.D, chairperson of the mathematics department on the Brooklyn Campus and principal investigator for the grant.

“Unfortunately, there are many schools in the U.S. where teachers of these disciplines are under-credentialed and ill qualified. SJC has a long and proud tradition of producing highly prepared teachers in all disciplines, including these subjects. This grant will help SJC recruit and prepare teachers for these disciplines and place them in schools that desperately need them.”

With the Noyce grant secured, the group hopes that it will continue to successfully obtain more grants in the future. The faculty members involved recognize the competition that exists from other colleges and major universities in the country, but are optimistic that St. Joseph’s reputation will speak for itself.

“We will continue demonstrating that SJC has high-quality math, computer science and physical science programs, and that our faculty members have the expertise to administer these programs,” Mr. McAllister said.

“The successful outcomes of our first grant helped secure the second grant, and the successful outcomes of our second grant helped secure our third grant. So far we’re three-for-three, and I believe we will be four-for-four.”

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