Second class of Ga. STEM teachers selected for national fellowship

Georgia officials introduced the newest group of future STEM teachers Wednesday as a part of a national teaching fellowship program designed to close achievement gaps and provide highly qualified instructors for all students.

Sixty students, from five Georgia colleges and universities, make up the second fellowship class of the national program funded by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The competitive fellowship is intended for recent college graduates and professionals with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math, who are looking to make a career change.

Selected students receive a $30,000 stipend to use during the yearlong master’s degree teaching program at Piedmont College, Columbus State, Georgia State, Kennesaw State or Mercer universities. In exchange, they must commit to teaching three years in the urban and rural Georgia schools most in need of STEM teachers. All five participating colleges received $400,000 in matching grants to develop the teacher-preparation program.

There is a nationwide shortage of STEM teachers, and they can be discouraged from teaching at high-need schools, said Patrick Riccards, spokesman for the foundation. STEM teachers in metro areas have more options, he said, but in a rural area, the needs are greater. “So you may not only be the chemistry teacher, but also the life sciences teacher, and coach a sport, because that’s what the schools need,” Riccards said.

Georgia was selected as the fifth state — and first Southern state — to participate in the national fellowship program in 2014. The initial group of 50 fellows began the program last fall. Gov. Nathan Deal has touted the program as a way to better prepare students for the jobs available and coming to the state, along with the state’s efforts to produce 20,000 new teachers by 2020.

Darryl Baynes, 25, graduated two years ago from West Virginia University with a mathematics degree and had been working as a machine technician before his father saw the information online about the fellowship.

“I always knew I wanted to do education, it was just a matter of when,” said Baynes, who is enrolled in the fellowship program at Columbus State University.

About two-thirds of this year’s fellows are career-changers like Baynes, and 44 percent are students of color.

“I always felt that STEM is a field that we really need more African-Americans working in and I felt that I could make a difference in that aspect,” he said.

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