Columbus State selected as site for STEM teacher fellowships

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 3, 2014 

Columbus State University will be among five Georgia institutions of higher learning to participate in a national initiative to increase the number of outstanding teachers in STEM, the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday in Atlanta.

CSU, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Mercer University and Piedmont College have been selected as sites for the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships. Georgia will be the first state in the South included in the national program.

"STEM education plays a critical role in our state's competitiveness and future economic prosperity," Deal said in a news release. "The most important thing we can do for our students in this field is ensure they have effective teachers. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships will encourage more partnerships between institutions of higher education and our K-12 schools to improve educational opportunities for students in this critical area."

The teaching fellowships are considered similar to the hospital-based training offered at medical schools. CSU and the four other institutions will receive $400,000 matching grants to develop a model master's-level teacher preparation program, comprising yearlong experience in local school classrooms. For committing to teach in a high-need urban or rural Georgia school for three years, fellows will receive $30,000 annual stipends. That's the most money a student will receive in any CSU program, noted John Lester, the assistant vice president for university relations.

As many as 12 fellows will be allowed to enroll at each institution per year. Jan Burcham, chairwoman of CSU's teacher education department, put that impact in perspective.

"It's going to help us attract really outstanding candidates into the very high-need fields of mathematics and science," Burcham said by phone while returning to Columbus from the announcement at the Georgia Capitol. "Our area schools are definitely in need of having outstanding teachers in these fields."

CSU applied to be a fellowship site. Foundation representatives visited the campus and interviewed officials ranging from the president to the faculty, Burcham said. After a year of planning, the fellowship will be ready to select students in the spring 2015 semester, she said.

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., will administer the program. The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, with support from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, will provide in-state coordination. Approximately $9.36 million has been raised for the Georgia fellowships, but more money is being sought to expand the program, the release said.

"An investment in math, science and technology education is an investment in Georgia's future," P. Russell Hardin, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, said in the release. "We are proud to be able to help bring this program to Georgia and to strengthen the pipeline of excellent teachers for the Georgia students who need them the most."

Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio are the other states participating in the program.

"Study after study shows that teachers are the single most important in-school factor in improving student achievement," Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, said in the release. "Yet urban and rural schools consistently struggle to attract and retain strong math and science teachers. Nationally, 30 to 40 percent of all teachers leave the profession during their first three years in the classroom, and more in high-need districts. So there's a genuine need for these new teachers, and for innovative preparation that will help keep them in the classroom."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkRiceLE.

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