Fort Lewis College (FLC) and New Mexico’s San Juan College (SJC) were awarded over $1 million from the National Science Foundation to create the Four Corners Noyce Scholars program (FCNS). The Noyce program aims to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates from both schools who also earn teaching certifications.
Colorado is not immune to the shortage of qualified teachers that is impacting states across the country. In 2017, the Colorado Department of Education reported that 50 percent of Colorado educators had to be recruited from out-of-state, meaning the state isn’t producing enough homegrown teachers.
The Colorado Department of Higher Education’s report “Colorado’s Teacher Shortages: Attracting and Retaining Excellent Educators” says that “… the state has teacher shortages in early childhood education and care, science, math, world languages, special education, and art/music/drama. We lack minority educators throughout the state. The shortages are more pronounced in rural and remote rural areas where we find unique challenges driven by inadequate teacher compensation, lack of affordable housing, and difficulty attracting new teachers to rural communities.”
As institutions with large minority student populations that also serve rural areas, Fort Lewis College and San Juan College are well-suited to respond to the need for more teachers in remote areas, not only in Colorado, but New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah as well.
“The Four Corners Noyce Scholars program is one way that Fort Lewis College contributes to the goal of preparing teachers for rural communities,” explains Dr. Anne McCarthy, associate dean of the FLC School of Arts & Sciences and one of the leaders behind the Noyce program. “FCNS aims to increase the number of well-qualified STEM teachers in the region’s schools, particularly in the many high-need, rural communities located in the Four Corners region and the nearby Navajo Nation.
“Our model is to recruit students from rural communities within our own region, provide scholarships to those students while they develop strong credentials, and then encourage them to return to their communities, equipped with the tools they need to be successful.”
Students within the Noyce program can receive scholarship support to pursue their teacher certification, along with specialized training in teaching in rural, often isolated and lower income, communities. Students working through the FCNS program will be paired with teaching opportunities offered in 13 school districts and 10 community partners located across Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to help bring up the next generation.
“It is well established that national and regional economic success depends, to some extent, on student performance in the STEM fields,” says Dr. Alicia Taber O’Brien, mathematics education program lead at San Juan College and SJC’s driver of the Noyce program. “In addition, we know from work we’ve done with our regional superintendents that the Four Corners area faces challenges in recruiting highly-qualified STEM teachers in their school districts. The goal of this grant is to provide those with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields with the training needed to become highly qualified STEM teachers. This training opportunity not only increases the number of locally trained STEM educators, it also further enhances the STEM experience and future career opportunities for students.”
“On the FLC campus, FCNS will allow students to take science beyond the classroom and interact with area youth and the broader community in the context of scientific outreach,” says Dr. McCarthy. “These opportunities give STEM majors, who may not have otherwise done so, a reason to consider teaching as a profession.”