$1.25 Million NSF Grant Funds Collaborative STEM For Education Scholarship Program


STEM for Education Scholarship Program (STEM-ESP) is the first collaboration between the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE), Rutgers School of Engineering, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Funded by a five-year, $1.25 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, STEM-ESP will recruit, retain, and graduate a community of engineers and physicists dedicated to teaching math and science to high school students in high-needs K-12 School Districts. With a theme of "STEM for Humanity”, the program enhances Rutgers existing engineering and physics undergraduate program by intertwining seminars that illustrate the great impact science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has on society.

“While the NSF supports a network of schools involved in this type of initiative, the Rutgers program is unique,” says School of Engineering Assistant Dean for Engineering Education Evelyn Laffey, who oversees STEM-ESP. “Very few programs provide this deep level of support for engineering students who are pursuing careers in education.”

STEM-ESP supports a national initiative to train more engineers to become educators. Its theme of “STEM for Humanity” stresses the tremendous far-reaching impact engineering and other STEM disciplines make on society as a whole. “Traditionally, we think of engineers as people who build bridges and buildings. But the reality is, engineering touches all aspects of our lives. It’s about everything from lipsticks to artificial heart valves,” explains Laffey.

STEM-ESP’s first cohort of four engineering students and one physics student was selected in May 2012. Each student will receive an annual $15,000 scholarship for up to three years as they work towards earning dual bachelors of science and master of education with teaching certificate degrees. When they graduate, STEM-ESP student scholars will be certified to teach high school physics or math in New Jersey with an emphasis on teaching in high-needs school districts. They must commit to teaching for two years for each year they receive an award—or for up to six years—in order to make a consistent, positive impact on their students.

“We want our scholars to be comfortable with the culture they will be joining,” says Laffey. “They get to visit schools in local school districts, talk to mentors, and meet graduates who are already teaching with our partner districts.” Other professional development opportunities include online support and mentoring from a network of in-service teachers.

The program also gives students ongoing support after they graduate and start teaching. “It is a great opportunity for students who might not otherwise become teachers,” says Eugenia Etkina, a GSE professor and chair of the Department of Learning and Teaching who is instrumental in furthering the students’ professional development.

“Our STEM-ESP graduates will have multiple job offers well in advance of actually receiving their degrees,” predicts Etkina, noting that the there is a dire need for qualified physics and math teachers.

A total of fifteen students will receive STEM-ESP funding over the five-year course of the NSF grant. “We are dedicated to this program, and we are pursuing opportunities to collaborate with diverse partners. Also, we will most likely resubmit for renewal at the end of the term of the grant,” notes Laffey.

This year, the program’s application deadline for the second cohort of scholars was February 1. “We have received applications from a great group of students, who like our first cohort, really understand the program and are committed to it,” says Laffey. “Their passion shines through in their applications. We couldn’t ask for more.”