The University of Texas-Pan American is searching for even more career options for students.
UTPA educational leaders in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) hosted a planning meeting Feb. 14-15 for an innovative teacher preparation program started in 1997 at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), known as UTeach.
"It's something that is a good choice for students. It is one degree with two career options," said Kim Hughes, director of the UTeach Institute.
UTeach was established in response to national concerns about the quality of K-12 STEM education. In its first decade, the program was so successful at drastically growing the number of certified STEM teacher graduates at UT Austin that it began receiving inquiries from universities around the world.
The program is in the planning stages at UTPA, and could be implemented as early as the fall 2012 semester. UTPA, The University of Texas at Brownsville and Boise State University in Idaho will be part of the program's fourth cohort.
"The students who enter our STEM degree programs will be better prepared, more student applicants will be intrigued by the STEM disciplines, and the community we serve will reap the benefits of a highly trained workforce," said Dr. John Trant, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics (COSM).
The two day meeting was a fact-finding mission for UTPA department chairs, deans, faculty and staff. Local school district leaders also attended the planning period site visit. Trant said UTeach will be a valuable multifaceted tool for future educators.
"These students can take advantage of their primary degree to pursue employment in industry, continue to graduate school, and/or enter the secondary school teacher workforce as a highly trained and much coveted STEM teacher," Trant said.
Administrators say the UTeach-Pan American Program will also be beneficial for local students who would rather stay close to home.
"This could be a singular case in the Valley where students who major in engineering have to leave the Valley to get a job and they may just prefer to stay in the Valley and teach," said Dr. David Allen, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
According to Dr. John Villarreal, COSM assistant dean, the secondary science and mathematics certification programs currently in place have not been preparing sufficient numbers of teachers for South Texas. He said UTeach will improve that significantly.
"There is immediate and critical need for additional, well-prepared secondary science and math teachers in the region served by UT-Pan American, in other parts of the state and the United States," Villarreal said. "The UTeach-Pan American Program is expected to help meet the needs of highly qualified science and mathematics teachers for a growing South Texas population, and for the state and the nation, as well."
Students who have a career goal of teaching secondary science or mathematics, or who may be interested in teaching science and math in middle school or high school will be targeted. The introductory, one-credit hour, STEP 1 and STEP 2 courses are designed to show first-year teachers that teaching science or mathematics will be a gratifying career.
"UTeach-Pan American students will pursue a rigorous science or mathematics degree program that will lead to the bachelor's degree in one of these disciplines, and to teaching certification, on completion of program requirements," Villarreal said.
All UTPA students will be eligible to apply for enrollment into the STEP 1 and STEP 2 courses. Of those who apply, a cohort of 70 students will be selected competitively for the fall semester STEP 1 course.
Hughes said the UTeach program has a high success and retention rate for former students.
"We track a lot of information on our graduates and the numbers we currently have for the latest cohort, 85 percent of our graduates are still teaching," Hughes said. Currently, 29 universities in 14 states are implementing UTeach courses, and more than 5,000 students are enrolled nationwide.
"Our job is to prepare our students to be tomorrow's teachers, researchers, and leaders," Trant said.