University wins grant to boost STEM education
The Rice University Office of STEM Engagement (R-STEM) won a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to help make leaders of elementary and secondary school science teachers at high-need schools.
The grant from the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program will enable Rice’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty and staff to enroll 20 greater Houston teachers. High-need schools are defined as those where more than 40% of students receive free or reduced-cost lunches.
Carolyn Nichol, director of R-STEM and an assistant research professor in chemistry at Rice, is principal investigator on the Noyce Texas Leadership Initiative for Inquiry Science Teaching and will work with Rice faculty and staff as well as colleagues at the University of Houston and Houston Community College to provide professional development for teachers in science and engineering.
“The grant will allow us to build leadership skills in these teachers,” Nichol said. “We want these master teachers to know how to run efficient meetings, how to lead groups at their schools and how to identify problems and come up with solutions. We’re also going to provide them with in-depth content in the broad field of science.”
Each teacher must have a master’s degree in science or science education and commit to five years of intensive training, with classes on the Rice campus every June and events throughout the year. In return, each of them will receive an annual stipend and earn graduate credits that can be used toward doctorates and as continuing education credits. The graduate credits will be given by Rice at no cost to the teachers.
Rice will work with science curriculum officials at the Houston Independent School District to recruit and select participants, but Nichol said the program isn’t limited to the district.
Nichol expects participants to bring what they learn back to their classrooms and to their fellow teachers to spread the best-practice techniques they will learn at Rice.
“The overarching idea is that we’re going to work with highly qualified teachers in high-need school districts for five years,” she said. “They can’t take promotions to become principals, for instance. We want them to be in the classroom, setting the standard.”
In the process, she said teachers will learn from top-notch educators, including John Hutchinson, former dean of undergraduates and a professor of chemistry at Rice; Yousif Shamoo, Rice’s vice provost for research and a professor of biochemistry and cell biology; and Robert Wimpleberg, retired dean of education at the University of Houston and executive director of the All Kids Alliance nonprofit.
“He will bring a real understanding of collective impact, how to collaborate and how to be a leader from within a group, even in a situation where you may not have a title,” Nichol said of Wimpleberg.
Rice established the Office of STEM Engagement in 2014 and has deep experience working with area school districts, a central tenet of the university’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade. It offers a range of programs for K-12 teachers, graduate and undergraduate students and K-12 students and parents.
Nichol expects the cohort to come together quickly, which is a necessity since the program’s inaugural Summer Institute begins on June 10.
From the beginning, she believes teachers will bring what they learn back to their students, their colleagues and, in turn, their colleagues’ students.
“They’ll get some of the best science teaching that Rice can provide, and strategies on how to implement the curriculum we’ve developed over the years in their classrooms,” Nichol said. “They’ll also learn how to support their campuses in general by being more effective in their classrooms — or being the one that other teachers come to and say, ‘I’m not sure what to do.’ These teachers are going to be a great resource.”