USC College of Education recruiting the next generation of science and mathematics teachers

  • Friday, January 24, 2014

The University of South Carolina College of Education is spreading the word - Students interested in math and science can find fulfilling careers as teachers – and they will find plenty of jobs waiting for them when they graduate.

Thanks to a gift from the Duke Energy Foundation, the College of Education has launched the Teach Science and Mathematics campaign to recruit more students to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics - commonly called “STEM education” - in middle and high schools.

“Our efforts at USC mirror a national movement to recruit more and improved STEM teachers,” says Ed Dickey, a professor in USC’s Department of Instruction and Teacher Education. “We are partnering with the Association of Public Land - Grant Universities and the Duke Energy Foundation to positively impact South Carolina by producing more STEM teachers to teach our young people. Our efforts will also assist the national 100K in 10 project, a national program designed to recruit, place and retain 100,000 STEM teachers nationwide by 2021.”

Recruiting STEM teachers for our schools is an important mission. Occupations in the STEM fields are some of the fastest-growing in the nation, with 8.6 million STEM-related careers projected to be available by 2018, according to a national study. In addition to providing lucrative jobs for South Carolinians, the STEM project will also provide teachers who can ultimately help equip a national work force that allows the U.S. and South Carolina to remain globally competitive across technology sectors. Without STEM teachers for our middle and high schools, the U.S. cannot meet the high demand for STEM careers both nationally and in South Carolina, Dickey says.

The goals of the USC campaign include increasing the number of students enrolled in the College of Education for STEM teaching, increasing diversity among STEM teachers and changing the overall public perception of teaching.

According to the Southern Education Foundation, more than 40 percent of South Carolina’s school populations are African-American, while only 18 percent of the state’s teachers are African-American. The Teach Science and Mathematics campaign will focus on increasing the pool of all STEM teachers, paying particular attention to increasing diversity. It will do this by developing strategic partnerships with African-American organizations and churches, as well as targeting rural areas and schools in South Carolina with high African-American populations, Dickey said.

“Not only is there a shortage of STEM teachers in South Carolina, but there is also a surprisingly low representation of minorities as secondary science and mathematics teachers,” he said. “That statistic alone is reason to recruit more diverse teachers in South Carolina schools, especially in the STEM-related areas.”

“We want to change the public perception of teaching into a career choice students and their parents can be excited about. And we want to make students more aware of the deficit of STEM teachers,” Dickey said. “We want them to know they can impact the future generation. And they can make a decent salary doing so.”

In the past year, USC graduated 14 high school and 14 middle school math teachers as well as 10 high school and 9 middle school science teachers, while the goal is to graduate 50 math and 50 science middle and high school teachers each year. Nationally, schools similar to USC produce about ten STEM teachers per year, Dickey said. But the university has a large untapped audience of students who are interested in math and science, but perhaps haven’t considered teaching as a career.

The Teach Science and Mathematics campaign, which began in December and is expected to be fully implemented by the middle of 2014, will use social media advertising, videos and other events to spread the word and combat the notion that teaching, in general, may not be “cool.”

In addition to the College of Education, the campaign receives assistance from USC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, as well as Injeanious Media, a local, full-service advertising and public relations agency.

“Our challenge is to make STEM teaching appeal to today’s young people in South Carolina,” says Jean Triskett, president of Injeanious Media. “Thanks to popular TV shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and the prominence of young tech geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg, the perception of science and math is now cool, but some negative connotations still surround teaching careers. We hope to break these existing stereotypes by connecting with younger audiences using pop culture references through social media avenues. By positioning STEM teaching careers as creative, fun, cool and empowering, students are more likely to consider it as a career path.”

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