Teachers in Industry Named 'Exemplary' Program

Inclusion of the UA program, founded in 2009, as part of Change the Equation's STEMworks database could lead to new funding opportunities.
March 6, 2015

Teachers in Industry, a University of Arizona program designed to retain excellent teachers in STEM classrooms, has been recognized as a leading program in the nation.

The program, which is helping to strengthen skilled educators working in the high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields is being recognized for its work in successfully retaining teachers while improving teacher quality.

Change the Equation, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan partnership led by a team of CEOs, has added the UA College of Education program to the STEMworks database, naming it an "exemplary" program. The database is a resource for businesses and nonprofit organizations looking to invest in STEM education, with member organizations that include 3M, AT&T, IBM, Texas Instruments and Verizon.

"Teachers in Industry is an innovative business-education partnership where experienced classroom teachers are temporarily hired into the STEM workforce during the summer," said Julia Olsen, who directs the UA program, which is funded through the 100Kin10 program. 

"This is an excellent long-term investment that businesses in Arizona can make in the development of future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians essential to the 21st-century workforce," Olsen said.

STEM education is a statewide and national concern, as the U.S. is trailing countries such as China, Germany, France, Japan and Canada in graduating undergraduates with science and engineering degrees.

The nationwide investment in STEM is meant to ensure that today's youth are able to make innovative contributions that help fuel the nation's economic stability and growth.

Teachers in Industry, offered through the UA College of Education's Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, is directly connected with industry partners and addresses the demand, said Ronald W. Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.

Founded in 2009, the UA's cohort-based program launched through a partnership involving the University, Tucson Values Teachers, Science Foundation Arizona, Raytheon Missile Systems and other southern Arizona businesses.

Initial funding was provided by Science Foundation Arizona, with current support provided by the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, which offers programmatic support in addition to partial tuition coverage for students in the master's option.

The program offers two opportunities for middle school and high school teachers: a professional development option and a master's degree option, which leads to a degree in teaching and teacher education with a focus in each teacher's STEM content area.

The master's program is designed for early- to mid-career teachers, and students in the program choose a concentration area. Currently, 17 students are enrolled in the master's degree option. Teachers remain in their classrooms while progressing through the master's program.

The professional development option allows teachers to return to their industry workplace for up to three summers, and it includes enrollment in a 3-credit-hour course each summer, for up to three years.

Teachers in Industry students receive paid real-world industry experience each summer while retaining their positions in Arizona classrooms. Both the master's and professional development programs guide teachers in transferring their summer work experiences directly to their classroom teaching.

"These experiences, when combined with the program's focused courses, provide a framework for incorporating authentic knowledge, skills and practices in their classrooms, thereby providing middle and high school students access to highly skilled educators," Olsen said. 

The program is consistent with the International Society for Technology in Education's standards and also the Next Generation Science Standards and the Mathematics Core Curriculum. Also, its activities align with current research indicating that students in STEM are more easily retained when they are engaged in active learning that has direct connections to real-world experiences.

"We provide opportunity for our teachers to develop a robust understanding of knowledge, skills and practices required for careers in STEM industries and translate their learning to their students," Olsen said. "They evaluate their own practices, reflect on classroom issues and are empowered to make changes."

Olsen also noted that the program maintains a high retention rate among graduates who continue in the teaching profession as STEM educators. All told, 36 students have graduated since the program's launch.

Graduates now working in Tucson include Jennie Elrod, a high school math teacher; Scott Weiler, a middle school engineering and robotics teacher; Lawrence Schneider, a high school math teacher; and Lisa Kist, a middle school science and virtual reality teacher. Jeff Ofstedahl, a high school science and engineering teacher, works in Sierra Vista.

Several points of success exist for the program, including:

  • Graduates are now teaching in district, private and charter schools.
  • Nearly all of the program's current participants and graduates are employed in schools deemed as high needs by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Recruitment efforts have yielded a diverse applicant pool. For 2015, the program is expecting new applications from several rural towns and communities with large populations of American Indians and Hispanics, including Holbrook. 

Marx said Teachers in Industry accomplishes several critical goals in support of expanded and enhanced STEM education in Arizona. 

"It enables talented teachers to get valuable, on-the-ground experience of STEM disciplines at work in business, it builds exciting links between K-12 STEM education and networks of scientists and engineers in the community, it infuses instruction in K-12 classrooms with real-world relevance and it helps retain excellent teachers in schools," Marx said.

"It is unique nationally, and provides a model for how communities, higher education and K-12 schools can work together to ensure quality education for our children and youth," said Marx, who is also the Paul L. Lindsey and Kathy J. Alexander Chair in the College of Education.

Added Olsen: "In addition, our teachers show substantial overall improvements in classroom practice, moving from traditional teacher-centered approaches toward reformed teaching — which can help students build proficiency not only in content but also in 21st-century skills such as problem solving and collaboration in real-life applications."