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Dordt Receives National Science Foundation Grant

April 19, 2023
Photo: Dordt University

Dordt University has received a $75,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to serve the need for preparing working professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to transition to teaching roles.

The award is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, and as a capacity-building project it will develop a new program with a potential for future funding to support students through the scholarship program.

The project is titled “Exploration of a Labs to Classrooms Teaching Fellowship Program for Career-Changing STEM Professionals.” The “Labs to Classrooms” project will develop an accelerated, fully online, master’s degree leading to teaching licensure that will target upper-level undergraduate STEM majors and adult STEM professionals considering a transition into STEM teaching.

Dordt also plans to explore a master of arts in teaching (MAT) program to address these needs while also seeking to improve the content and pedagogical knowledge of STEM teachers in the region and across the country.

Director of graduate studies Dr. Steve Holtrop, who served as the project’s principal investigator, says he has spent much of his career looking for ways for nontraditional students to have greater access to higher education degrees.

“This grant provides an exciting opportunity for exploring a path for working adults to receive the training and credentials needed to combine their science knowledge with a sense of calling to work with middle and high school students,” he said.

The highest subject-area shortages of teachers are in the STEM disciplines, added Dr. Ryan Zonnefeld, professor of education and coprincipal investigator for the project. “Dordt’s mission has always been to serve the broader community, and an MAT program broadens this service,” he explained.

Dr. Valorie Zonnefeld, professor of mathematics and coprincipal investigator for the project, hopes the grant will lay the foundation for a successful MAT program. “I’m excited to explore how our graduate program could provide a pathway for individuals working in STEM who feel called to pursue education,” she said.

In their proposal, the team described how the program will support placing highly qualified, fully licensed STEM teachers into high-need and rural middle schools and high schools, helping to ease the problem of overstretched math and science departments and teachers operating outside of their areas of licensing.

“Growing the undergraduate and graduate STEM and STEM education programs enhances STEM research and industry in the state, region, and nation—” the proposal stated, “which means enhanced solutions for medical challenges like cancer and pandemics, energy challenges, climate debates, new frontiers like AI and deep space, and new synergies like psychobiology and interstellar archeology.”