UNR dual degree program puts science and math majors in K-12 classrooms
A University of Nevada, Reno program created to address teacher shortages and increase teacher retention in K-12 classrooms graduated its first class of students in May.
NevadaTeach is a dual major program between the university’s College of Education and its STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—programs. Initially funded in December 2014 through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute with a grant of $1.45 million, the program has since experienced significant growth as the number of enrolled students has increased and the program has expanded into a newly renovated facility on campus.
Dr. Bob Quinn, professor of mathematics and co-director of NevadaTeach, said that—thanks to the passage of Nevada Assembly Bill 522—the program has also obtained an additional $300,000 to help sustain its growing numbers.
According to Quinn, prior to NevadaTeach, secondary education students generally took a minimum number of credits in science or math required by the state to teach those subjects. Now, they can also get degrees in their respective STEM fields—agricultural science, atmospheric science, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geography, mathematics or physics—while also getting hands-on teaching experiences right away.
Students don’t have to give up their studies in STEM fields in order to see what it’s like to be a teacher. If a STEM student is curious about teaching but is unsure about whether he or she may like it, they can take a one-credit course to get firsthand classroom experience immediately. And the classes are risk-free, meaning students don’t have to switch majors or commit to the program right away. They’re also subsidized for the first two classes, which allows them to determine what it’s like to teach without the risk of paying for courses only to find out they don’t like it.
Vigitta Manounyavong is a NevadaTeach student earning degrees in secondary education and biology from the university. She said she initially attended the university in hopes of earning a biology degree to get into pharmacy school.
“For the longest time, I was pharmacy, up until maybe within the last year, when I decided maybe that wasn’t my path,” she said. “And I was just too much in the hole [with science classes], but what I think is cool about NevadaTeach is that you get the two degrees, so I didn’t have to choose between biology or education—I got to do both.”
Manounyavong said that she didn’t want to commit to another four years of school after her bachelor’s degree to complete the education required to be a pharmacist, especially since she hasn’t had the chance to experience what it’s like to work in the pharmacy field firsthand and doesn’t want to risk putting in four more years of school to find out she may not like it. But Manounyavong said she never pictured herself as a teacher, either.
She remembers taking a campus tour and getting a flyer with information about NevadaTeach—what sold her was that she didn’t have to wait to see what it’s like to be in a classroom. She could experience teaching immediately to figure out if she was passionate about it or not.
Manounyavong said the moment she knew she wanted to continue with the program came during her second semester of NevadaTeach while she was leading a chemistry review at Lou Mendive Middle School.
“We did a March Madness bracket of elements,” she said, “Whichever element has the biggest number of protons moves on. I think because of that [the students] really got it. We put in a few trick questions, so the fact that they really understood it, it made it feel worth it, like I was actually doing something.”
Aside from hands-on teaching, Manounyavong said one of her favorite parts of the program is the sense of community within NevadaTeach. You can catch her hanging out on campus in the NevadaTeach space with friends or bringing in Nothing Bundt Cakes to her professors.
“Community is super important as teachers,” she said, “You need that community of teachers because you’re not going to write all of your lesson plans by yourself, and sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on when the days are rough.”
NevadaTeach also offers other resources for students to utilize in order to maximize what they get out of the program. One of the resources is access to master teachers—experienced science and math teachers from Washoe County School District. Master teachers teach lower level classes, supervise apprentice teachers and provide program graduates who are employed by WCSD with two years of in-classroom support and feedback after they graduate.
Quinn said that he wants students who really enjoy teaching but also have a deep curiosity and knowledge about their science or math discipline.
“We want teachers who excel in their content area, who are excellent mathematicians or biologists or chemists, not necessarily that they’d be practicing that in a lab every day, but we want them to have that excitement about mathematics and science that’ll rub off on their students,” he said. Ω