VolsTeach, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, program that prepares math and science majors to become teachers, is being recognized for helping to solve one of the state’s most vital education problems.
Richard G. Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), recently noted that the work of VolsTeach’s faculty and staff “have surpassed even the highest expectations set for this program.”
More than 200 students have enrolled in VolsTeach since its implementation in fall 2010. UT received a grant from THEC in 2009 to establish the program. It replicates UTeach, a proven model developed by the University of Texas, Austin. VolsTeach is a partner program of the UTeach Institute. The program’s mission is to address the shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers in middle and high schools.
“This robust growth (of UT’s program) has led to VolsTeach being quickly recognized as a model site,” Rhoda said, noting that it is “playing a crucial role” in bolstering STEM instruction in K-12 education.
Early field experience is a strength of VolsTeach, said Madilynn McCollum, of Franklin, Tennessee, a chemistry major who just finished her second year in the program.
“VolsTeach puts you in the classroom the very first semester so you know right away if you’re going to like it or not,” she said. “Going from a student to a teacher, you learn and grasp the topics better because you’re teaching it. You also learn public speaking and communication with teachers.”
VolsTeach’s success also has to do with the quality of preparation it offers students, said program co-director Susan Riechert.
“This is related to the superb educators we have brought in as master teachers and the innovative approaches we have implemented in the required courses, which include cross-discipline experiences.”
The first class of students will graduate from UT in spring 2013.
The program, which targets undergraduate math, science, and engineering majors who may be interested in teaching, is a collaboration between UT’s College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
Relationships with local and state partners drive the program, said Susan Newsom, assistant director of VolsTeach.
“We are very appreciative of the support and collaboration provided by the VolsTeach partner school systems and mentors of Anderson, Knox, and Roane counties, the UT administration, THEC, the Tennessee Department of Education, the UTeach Institute, and a grant from the NSF Robert Noyce Scholarship Program” she said. “VolsTeach students truly have support from many partners.”
Students are able to earn a degree in their discipline and a secondary education teaching license within four years and at no extra cost. Students take VolsTeach as a minor.
Having one degree that provides two career paths is a plus, said Daniel Rose, of Powell, a plant sciences major who just completed his freshman year and first year in VolsTeach.
“You could go into your own field of study or teaching,” he said. “You’re not restricted to one or the other.”
As a result of VolsTeach’s success, its faculty has been invited to discuss aspects of UT’s program at the national UTeach Institute Conference in Austin, Texas, May 30 to June 1.
Conference presenters include Riechert, who will help new and prospective UTeach sites identify best practices for successful replication of the program; program co-director Susan Benner, who will participate in a mentoring session; master teacher Nita Ganguly, who will discuss the VolsTeach’s STEM research methods class; and Randy Atkins, a development officer for the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, who will talk about the VolsTeach development model.
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