SOE News

Burroughs Wellcome Fund announces $5.3-million initiative to increase production of science and mathematics teachers on four UNC campuses

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has awarded the University of North Carolina system a $5.3-million grant to support a "fast track" initiative to significantly increase the number of certified science and mathematics teachers being produced by UNC campuses. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund Scholars Program, which will initially be offered at NC Central University, NC State University, UNC Asheville, and UNC-Chapel Hill, will offer qualifying junior and senior students majoring in science or mathematics an opportunity to earn high school teacher certification along with a bachelor's degree. Scholarships, mentoring, and other supplemental support will be provided to all BWF Scholars. The four partnering UNC campuses have committed to recruit and prepare 120 BWF Scholars over the next three years.

UNC President Erskine Bowles enthusiastically announced the initiative June 8, 2007 during the regular June meeting of the UNC Board of Governors and underscored the importance such public-private partnerships: "At a time when the world is clamoring for science and engineering talent, about two-thirds of the students in U.S. high schools studying chemistry and physics are taught by teachers who are not certified in the field and didn't major in the subject. If our children and grandchildren are going to be equipped to compete successfully in a knowledge-based global economy, we just have to do more to increase the pool of qualified science and mathematics teachers for our classrooms and attract the best and the brightest into teaching. Working in partnership with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund-we are going to attack this problem head-on here in North Carolina."

On each of the four pilot campuses, the provost, dean of education, and dean of arts and sciences will work collaboratively to develop a unique "fast track" program of study for junior and senior science or mathematics majors who choose to pursue secondary teacher certification along with their baccalaureate degrees. This effort will require a compact set of condensed education courses that ensures these students receive the grounding they need to meet all state licensure requirements. BWF Scholars will receive $6,500 annual scholarships, a full-time classroom internship with intensive mentoring, as well as extra support in transitioning to the classroom as a new teacher. As a tremendous additional benefit, BWF Scholars who graduate and are then employed as licensed science or mathematics teachers in a North Carolina public school will receive a $5,000 annual salary supplement for up to five years.

"The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is committed to working with the UNC and K-12 systems to recruit, train, and retain qualified science and mathematics teachers in North Carolina classrooms," stated Queta Bond, BWF president. "We have a national crisis of teacher shortages as addressed in the National Academy of Sciences Report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Studies show that teachers with strong content knowledge and teaching skills improve the performance of their students.

North Carolina must work to increase America's talent pool by continuing to improve K-12 science and mathematics education, a process that begins with the teachers who demand our respect and admiration. BWF is delighted to be a partner with UNC on this very worthwhile endeavor."

A chronic shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers at the high school level is among the most serious problems facing public schools today. Too few North Carolina college students choose to major in the so-called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and only a tiny fraction of students who do pursue degrees in those critical fields enter college intending to become a high school teacher. Last year, UNC's 15 teacher education programs collectively produced about 4,000 prospective teachers, yet only about 1,000 were in the high-need licensure areas of science, mathematics, middle-grades education, or special education. UNC campuses are working aggressively to increase the supply of qualified teachers throughout the state - particularly in high-need areas.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the medical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.