FORT WAYNE – South Side Principal Carlton Mable started out the school year with a daunting challenge.
He needed science teachers, and he needed them fast. But as in the past, it seemed like there were none to be found.
I was in a pinch, Mable said. Most people who have a chemistry undergrad, they go into pharmaceuticals, they work in a lab. They make a lot of money. It makes it difficult to find someone with that kind of background.
A few days later, Mable was able to find his teachers, thanks in part to a new fellowship program geared toward placing more math and science teachers in Indiana classrooms.
The program, called the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships, has partnered with Ball State, Purdue, IUPUI and the University of Indianapolis to create a selective, rigorous masters degree program for aspiring teachers. To be eligible, applicants must be undergraduates, recent college graduates, mid-career professionals or retirees who have majored in or had careers in science, technology, engineering or math – or STEM.
Those accepted into the program receive a $30,000 stipend, assuming they are willing to commit to spending at least three years teaching in a high need, urban or rural environment, according to Connie Bond, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships program officer.
South Side science teacher Jessica Largent, 24, is one of about 160 people in Indiana who have participated in the program and one of two fellows currently working in Fort Wayne.
A biology undergraduate major at Ball State, Largent said her interest in teaching was sparked in college. But without the extra incentive of the stipend, she said she probably would not have pursed a masters degree in education.
I didnt think Id like it as much as I do, said Largent, who completed Ball States special one-year masters degree program for fellows. Its really rewarding working with these students and fulfilling the need.
Ball State and other participating universities received $500,000 from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to rethink their traditional programs and to come up with ways to support teachers in their first few years, Bond said.
So far, Mable said, hes been impressed with the two fellows hes hired this year.
Their content knowledge is extremely in-depth for a first year teacher, he said. They have the content knowledge. I can teach them the rest.
The shortage of teachers in the STEM fields is both a national and statewide trend, Bond said.
The United States faces a shortage of 283,000 secondary math and science teachers by 2015, according to the Business-Higher Education Forum.
Experts attribute the trend to lower numbers of men and women studying STEM disciplines in college and to the fact that many of those who do have the required math and science backgrounds are drawn to more lucrative jobs.
To address the shortage in the Midwest, the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Program hopes to prepare 600 highly skilled math, science, and technology teachers for high-need public schools in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio by 2012.
Science teacher Danielle Dabler, 26, who joined Largent at South Side at the beginning of the year, said shes impressed with the program and its mission.
With the scarcity, you could almost go anywhere, she said. But you should go where youre needed the most.