AUSTIN -- The Sid W. Richardson Foundation has awarded a $200,000 grant to two University of Texas institutions in the Rio Grande Valley as a first step in addressing a severe shortage of middle and high school math and science teachers in South Texas.
The grant, awarded to the UTeach programs at UT Brownsville and UT Pan American, specifically aims to cut into the math and science teacher deficit in South Texas, which historically has had high poverty and unemployment rates. The UTeach project was launched in 2012 by the UT Board of Regents with a five-year, $4 million commitment.
“We see the new medical school as a transformational initiative for the Valley and regard UTeach as a key piece in ensuring that South Texas public schools have the excellent teachers necessary to prepare our children for the opportunities that the medical school will create,” said Pete Geren, the foundation’s President and CEO, referring to the initiative to establish the new Valley university and medical school.
UTeach is a nationally acclaimed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teacher preparation program aiming to funnel more students into STEM careers, said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.
“We gratefully welcome the Sid Richardson Foundation’s support in this endeavor to set up a vitally needed STEM program,” Cigarroa said. “It is particularly gratifying to have the project in a part of the state that has both unique needs and a population with such strong aspirations for success via higher education opportunities. This grant will help us achieve that goal.”
The teacher preparation program has been designed so that students will complete their degree program and secure teacher certification within four years.
By 2016, when the first class of 2012 freshmen will be graduating, projections are that UTeach Pan American will have matriculated 42 STEM teachers, while Brownsville UTeach will have graduated 35. Once the program is fully operational, projections are that there will be 107 graduates a year who will have a direct impact on some 175,000 middle and high school students every year.
A number of studies directly link the quality of science and mathematics education to the nation's ability to drive innovation and retain its top position in the global economy.
Similar reports also point out that in order to remain competitive in this rapidly-changing world, students, especially underrepresented minority students, must develop vital 21st century thinking skills learned in STEM classrooms.
Improving the quality of education is a first step in addressing the challenges facing that burgeoning region of Texas, Cigarroa said. The demographic profile of the nearly 1.3 million Valley residents living along the border in the four-county region indicates a rapidly growing, younger, mostly Hispanic population with rising health issues, a strained health care system and growing unemployment.
Bachelor's degree rates in the Valley average 12.2 percent, less than half the 26-plus percent for the rest of Texas.
UTeach was originally established at UT Austin in 1997 to attract bright science and mathematics majors into secondary teaching careers, preparing them through an advanced field-intensive curriculum, and promoting professional retention and ongoing professional development.
A report by the National Academies, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, identified UTeach as an innovative program with the potential to significantly address the STEM teacher shortage. Currently, 35 universities across the U.S. are replicating the UTeach model. Universities implementing UTeach receive direct and individualized support from the UTeach Institute – a nonprofit organization leading national replication efforts.
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.