Next generation of STEM leaders

Beatriz Vargas, a biology and biochemistry major who graduated in May.
Beatriz Vargas, a biology and biochemistry major who graduated in May.

A 2020 study by the National Science Board reported that the United States is experiencing a shortage of STEM-trained professionals, leaving the nation’s workforce in a vulnerable position when it comes to technological and scientific innovation.

For Greg Hale, assistant dean of the College of Science, the answer to the nation’s STEM talent shortage can be found in programs that train highly qualified science and mathematics teachers—like the UTeach Arlington program at The University of Texas at Arlington.

“Many teachers certified for STEM teaching in Texas have minimal amounts of college coursework in STEM disciplines,” said Hale, who is co-director of UTeach Arlington. “The best-prepared teachers have deep knowledge of their disciplines and excellent STEM-specific pedagogical skills.

“Our UTeach Arlington graduates leave UTA prepared to become first-class educators as a result of their STEM degrees and the exemplary UTeach pedagogical preparation they received.”

In 2010, with funding from the Texas Instruments Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Texas Education Agency, UTA launched UTeach Arlington, modeled after the University of Texas at Austin’s nationally recognized STEM teacher certification program.

UTeach Arlington is a secondary teacher preparation program that is built into degrees in biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics and physics. Students in the program learn research-based pedagogy for secondary classrooms as they earn a bachelor’s degree in science or mathematics.

Data collected from the degree program’s 10-year history proves UTeach Arlington is helping to close the gap in the nation’s STEM-talented workforce.

  • With more than 240 program graduates, UTeach Arlington alumni impact 20,000 students each year.
  • UTeach estimates 61% of the program’s educators are teaching in K-12 schools with majority low-income populations.
  • Economically disadvantaged students who study under UTeach Arlington graduates demonstrate deeper math and science comprehension than their peers.

“Our goal is for our UTeach Arlington graduates and their students not just to survive but to thrive,” said Master Teacher Karen Jo Matsler.

Improved scores and attitudes

Parvinder Singh
Parvinder Singh

Parvinder Singh, who teaches pre-advanced placement and advanced placement chemistry at Seguin High School in Arlington, leans on teaching methods he learned at UTA as he attempts to demystify chemistry for his young students.

“The UTeach Arlington program emphasizes student-centered lesson planning,” said Singh, a graduate of the inaugural class of 2014. “It’s a process of guided inquiry. As the instructor, I provide students with goals and the steps for how to achieve those goals, then walk them through the process. But the student is encouraged to be self-motivated and move themselves through the steps.”

The impact of the UTeach method is not only evident in improved test scores, but in students’ attitudes as well.

“At the beginning of a semester of advanced chemistry, the students are afraid,” Singh said. “By the end of the semester, they are telling me they want to be chemistry teachers.”

Matsler said the rigorous, diverse and extensive classroom experiences UTA students receive within various teaching environments give them an advantage over their colleagues.

“Classroom experiences begin in the first semester of the program,” Matsler said. “Students move from elementary to middle school classrooms and finally teach high school courses.”

Matsler credits the exceptional quality of UTeach Arlington teachers to the thorough mentorship provided by the program’s experienced instructors.

Karen Jo Matsler
Karen Jo Matsler

“Our master teachers are people who have been in the classroom a very long time. The wisdom gained from their experiences is matchless,” Matsler said. “We also hire retired teachers to serve as mentors and observe the students every week for a minimum of 10 weeks. We continuously monitor our student teachers’ progress in pedagogical skills, student engagement, classroom management and effective content delivery.”

After gaining years of experience of instruction in various classrooms, Beatriz Vargas, a biology and biochemistry major who graduated in May, feels confident in her ability to lead her own.

“I didn’t realize how great our training was until I started to talk to other student teachers,” Vargas said. “I’ve been able to practice classroom skills since my first day of UTeach Arlington.”

Career prospects

As K-12 STEM education emerges as a top national priority, the demand for science, technology and mathematics teachers continues to rise. UTeach Arlington graduates never seem to be on the job hunt for long.

Jamie Kehlenbeck graduated from UTA with a mathematics degree and teaching certification from UTeach Arlington. After starting as an estimator at Martin Sprocket & Gear, she became the lead trainer of sales staff in materials handling.

“I loved training so much that I tried to get my supervisor to move me from cost estimation exclusively to training,” Kehlenbeck said. “I realized what I really wanted to do was teach.”

Kehlenbeck changed careers and received two job interviews and offers for both positions. Five years later, now with experience on the other side of the hiring table, she credits her UTeach Arlington degree as the reason she got the job.

“I’ve been on hiring committees. When I see UTeach on a resume, that applicant goes to the top of the pile,” Kehlenbeck said. “UTeach produces good teachers. They are the pick of the litter.”

Before joining Seguin High School as a chemistry teacher, Singh took a break from education to explore other career options. When he was ready to apply for teaching positions again, he called his former professor to ask for help.

“As soon as I decided I was ready to get back into the classroom, I called Dr. Matsler,” Singh said. “She connected me to schools that were seeking STEM teachers, and I found a job right away.”

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.