$1.2M Grant Will Help Prepare Indigenous Elementary Teachers for STEM Instruction

The U.S. Department of Education grant will double the number of Native American students in the UA's Indigenous Teacher Education Project.
Nov. 6, 2018
Valerie Shirley
Valerie Shirley
Jeremy Garcia
Jeremy Garcia

The University of Arizona's Indigenous Teacher Education Project has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will double the number of Native American students in the program, establish new tribal partnerships and support a new focus on STEM education.

Housed in the UA College of Education's Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies, the Indigenous Teacher Education Project began in 2016 and has a mission to increase the number of indigenous teachers serving indigenous students, schools and communities.

Only 6 percent of American Indians earned a bachelor's degree in science and engineering disciplines in 2014, and in 2016, only 3 percent of Native American students in Arizona met the ACT science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, college readiness benchmark.

"As a result of this grant, we are now able to provide this next generation of teachers with skills and practices in STEM, as well as the confidence needed in order to integrate STEM within their classrooms," said project director Valerie Shirley, an assistant professor in the College of Education.

Shirley and project co-director Jeremy Garcia, also an assistant professor in the college, believe building interest in STEM must begin during the elementary school years. Placing emphasis on STEM in the Indigenous Teacher Education Project, or ITEP, will support a pathway for Native American students to pursue STEM-related fields that give back to their indigenous communities.

The new STEM component of the UA program — indigenizing STEM education — represents the integration of both indigenous and STEM educations.

"Collectively, the purpose of ITEP is to build the capacity of the next generation of indigenous teachers who will sustain, revitalize and re-envision indigenous education that is grounded in community values and goals," Garcia said.

"The Indigenous Teacher Education Project embodies core elements of the University of Arizona's mission as a service-oriented and student-centered university," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "Serving the Native nations of our region is central to that mission, and it is incredibly important for the success of Native American students at all levels of learning that there are more Native American teachers. The expansion of this program will not only improve the quality of education for indigenous students, but will also hopefully increase representation of indigenous people in STEM-related fields, which will benefit everyone in our community."

The Indigenous Teacher Education Project currently serves 14 Native American students enrolled in the elementary education program. With the additional funds, the project will expand to support another cohort of 14 Native American students, doubling the size of the program. A new round of recruiting for the project will begin in January.

To support the efforts of the project, new partnerships were formed with several tribes and organizations in the state, including:

  • The Hopi Tribal Education Department
  • Gila River Indian Community
  • San Carlos Apache College
  • Tohono O'odham Nation Education Department
  • Tohono O'odham Community College
  • Tucson Unified School District
  • Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation

More information about the Indigenous Teacher Education Project is available on the project website and Facebook or by contacting Shirley at vshirley@email.arizona.edu or Garcia at garciaj3@email.arizona.edu.