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    Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has landed a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a program aimed at improving the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the middle schools and high schools of Southwestern Illinois.
   The grant will help the university recruit outstanding students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics and prepare three dozen of them to be STEM teachers in high-needs secondary schools, both rural and urban.
   “The need for teachers who cannot only educate but truly inspire our children to become the next generation of engineers and scientists is absolutely paramount for keeping our economy strong and discovering innovations to solve the challenges of our growing population,” said Jerry Weinberg, associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school at SIUE.
   The grant-supported program will feature a two-phase strategy. One will expose promising freshman and sophomore STEM students to the challenges and rewards of teaching. The second will provide competitive Robert Noyce Scholarships of $11,500 per year to junior and senior students who commit to STEM teaching careers.
   Scholarship recipients will commit to complete at least two years of STEM teaching in high-needs secondary schools for each year of their scholarships.
   The program is a joint effort of the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education and STEM Center at SIUE and area community colleges, community organizations, cooperating school districts and teachers.
   Heading the program are: Jessica Krim, SIUE assistant professor of curriculum and instruction; Sharon Locke, director of SIUE’s Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach; Kelly Barry, associate professor of biological sciences; and Susan Wiediger, associate professor of chemistry.
   Locke says the grant is SIUE’s largest ever for STEM education. She says the scholarships are generous, covering tuition, fees and more, and should attract top-notch students. Applications are being accepted.
   Each summer, SIUE will award 10 paid internships to freshmen and sophomores at SIUE or area community colleges who are majoring in or planning to major in one of the STEM disciplines.
   The internships will provide the students opportunities to try their hands at teaching — in outreach programs at SIUE or with community partners.
   “We’ll be making sure they get a lot of experience in high-needs areas both rural and urban,” Krim said.
   Those awarded Noyce scholarships for their junior and senior years will receive enhanced opportunities for research and outreach with participating secondary schools. Noyce scholars will attend the National Science Teachers Association annual conference. The Noyce scholarships are named for the late Robert N. Noyce, who co-founded Intel Corp. and pioneered development of integrated circuits.
   New STEM teachers won’t be entirely on their own. The program will include extensive new-teacher support, including summer face-to-face workshops, online mentoring and support, and professional development events, all to maintain a network of peers and supportive master teachers. There will be ongoing access to the services and resources of the university’s STEM Center.
   Krim says new teachers sometimes leave the profession if they don’t receive adequate support.
   “There’s a lot of interest among the schools,” Locke said. “They recognize (STEM education) as a priority. They want their students to have STEM opportunities. They come to us for help.”
   “There is a significant need of highly qualified STEM educators across the nation, especially in underprivileged areas,” said Gina Washington, director of the SIUE Charter High School in East St. Louis. “Introducing underrepresented students to careers in STEM education could be life-changing.”
   The charter school was established in 1999 and now has a cutting-edge STEM learning center, thanks to a gift of nearly $1 million from East St. Louis native Robert H. Graebe and his wife, Norma J. Graebe, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The center is named for William Frederick Graebe Sr., Robert Graebe’s father, and opened last year.
   The center features a 70-inch, multitouch, interactive LCD board, high-definition teleconferencing, 3-D scanning and printing, 30 iPads and 30 laptop computers.
   Washington says the school’s students are “ecstatic” at the STEM learning opportunities. She says they have grown up in a high-tech world.
   “They understand what it means to their futures,” she said.
   Improved STEM education has increasingly been seen as a national priority since a 2005 report by a committee of the National Academies entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”
   The panel found urgent needs to strengthen public schools and invest in basic scientific research to ensure the nation’s competitiveness in a world economy increasingly influenced by rapid scientific and technological innovation.
   The panel revisited the issue in 2010 and found that, despite efforts in both the public and private sectors, the outlook for the U.S. to compete for quality jobs in the future had continued to deteriorate.