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STEM program diversifies field

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Courtesy of UA College of Education

Bruce Johnson is the co-director of the STEM Learning Center, professor of environmental learning and science education, and department head of teaching, learning and sociocultural studies. Johnson discussed the UA's Teachers in Industry program, which he said is the only program in the country where teachers can work for science, technology, engineering and math industries during the summer while simultaneously earning a master's degree.

Teachers in Industry is a UA-partnered program that aims to educate teachers and increase their retention rates in science, technology, engineering and math classrooms. The program recently received recognition from Change the Equation for its uniqueness and efforts to diversify the field.

Change the Equation is an organization that partners with communities, schools and states to ensure that students receive STEM programs.

Julia Olsen, the director of Teachers in Industry, said the purpose of the program is for teachers to “experience working in a business because most teachers have not done that. … They can learn first-hand about the kind of skills and knowledge that their students need to get interested in careers in STEM … and to understand why STEM is important.”

According to Bruce Johnson, a co-director at the STEM Learning Center, the Teachers in Industry program is the only program in the country that arranges for STEM classroom teachers to work in STEM industries during the summer and earn a master’s degree simultaneously.

“One reason Teachers in Industry was recognized by Change the Equation is its combination of STEM work experience and a graduate program,” Johnson said. “… [We] have data to show how the program helps to teach excellent STEM teachers in the profession while also assisting them to bring their business [and] industry experiences to their classrooms to help their students.”

From 2001 to 2014, there was a one percentage point decrease in the number of women in the engineering and advanced manufacturing fields, exemplifying the underrepresentation issue that groups such as these, along with President Barack Obama’s administration, are trying to eradicate.

Additionally, Olsen said STEM professionals are essential to the 21st century workforce, because “our whole society depends on a highly skilled workforce. … It is especially important for students to know, because of the career opportunities that are out there for them that they wouldn’t otherwise know about.”

“We want to diversify the face of STEM so that it is gender and multiculturally diverse,” said Sara Chavarria, the assistant director of PK-20 STEM Pathways at the STEM Learning Center.

Johnson said the Southern Arizona Leadership Council formed Tucson Values Teachers, which brought ideas and concerns to the UA’s College of Education. As a joint effort, Teachers in Industry was created to combine the ideas of business leaders and university faculty.

“It is also a focus in education because we want to raise the STEM literacy of all learners,” Chavarria said, “so that they can understand the world of STEM which is manifested in their technology, their consumables, their health services, and their environmental and living spaces.”

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