$1.2 million grant will help Benedictine prepare more teachers in math, sciences

October 12, 2012


Lisle, Illinois~ Benedictine University has been preparing students for successful careers as scientists, mathematicians and health professionals since its founding decades ago.

Now, with the aid of a $1.2 million Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the University can concentrate on addressing one of the country’s greatest challenges – regaining its competitive edge in the sciences – by preparing students to become high-quality math and science teachers.

Improving America’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education has been one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities. The president proposes to train 100,000 highly-qualified math and science teachers over the next decade to prepare the country’s future workforce to fill an anticipated 1.2 million new STEM jobs by 2018.

The National Academies, a science and technology advisory organization, has warned that the United States will continue to be at risk of falling behind foreign competitors unless it improves the quality of math and science education. The World Economic Forum currently ranks the United States 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in the quality of math and science instruction.

“People are bemoaning the state of science in this country,” said Bart Ng, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science at Benedictine. “Part of it is because the people who are very good at it have alternatives. Few college students who are strong in science or math go into the teaching profession. Those who do don’t stay there very long because their skills pay much more in STEM industries.” 

Beginning in January, the College of Science will step up recruitment efforts for students with strong backgrounds in physics, math and chemistry and who are considering teaching as a profession as part of the NSF initiative, “Expanding and Strengthening the Secondary STEM Teacher Training Program.”

As many as 110 students who have reached junior and senior status, as well as professionals seeking alternative teacher certification who show a strong interest in the program, will be eligible to receive up to $10,000 annually to apply toward tuition for a maximum of two years if they agree to work in a “high-needs” school for at least two years for each scholarship awarded.

The financial awards will be made available to students for the five-year period of the grant, or until December 2017. Students will also be paired with mentor teachers at local schools, who will receive a small stipend for coaching and training graduates as they transition from student-teachers to first-year teachers.

“These types of awards continue to give back several fold,” said Don Taylor, Ph.D., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Benedictine. “For every new pre-service teacher in science or math who is supported by scholarship funds from the grant, that teacher will have the opportunity to impact hundreds of future students in their own classrooms.”

Allison K. Wilson, Ph.D., professor of Biological Sciences, is the principle investigator of the project. Andrew G. Wig, Ph.D., associate professor of Physics and Engineering; Niina J. Ronkainen, Ph.D., associate professor of Chemistry; Thomas G. Wangler, Ph.D., professor of Mathematics; and John F. Zigmond, Ed.D., an instructor in the College of Education and Health Services, are co-principle investigators.

Currently, there are shortages of qualified grades 6-12 chemistry, physics and mathematics teachers in the Chicago Public Schools system, throughout suburban Cook County and across the nation. Without strong teachers in these subject areas, more students will likely struggle in college, or worse – decide against pursuing a career in the sciences, according to Wilson.

“The necessity of students learning a solid foundation in the sciences at the middle and high school levels is essential,” Wilson said. “Benedictine University’s strong tradition in the sciences, combined with its teacher education program and the availability of these scholarships, will help address this need.”

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, named after the founder of the computing company Intel, seeks to encourage talented science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers.

In awarding the grant to Benedictine, reviewers pointed to the University’s tradition of innovation in the sciences; its history of receiving grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute supporting education outreach initiatives; and its recognition by the Congressional Office of Technology and Advancement as one of the most productive undergraduate institutions in the country for the rate that its science graduates go on to earn doctoral degrees.

Grant reviewers also cited the large number of undergraduates who declare science as their major, and the partnerships Benedictine has established with area elementary, middle and high schools as part of other academic initiatives.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.

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