SOE News

New program fast tracks science students to produce more teachers

A new program will increase the number of science teachers produced at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by offering biology and physics majors a way of earning N.C. teaching licensure while simultaneously completing their undergraduate science degree.

“UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching (UNC-BEST) is a model program that will help North Carolina schools address the critical need for qualified science teachers” said Bernadette Gray-Little, the University’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “Our faculty recognize the importance of providing well-prepared science teachers that will have a significant impact on science learning for children across North Carolina.”

North Carolina’s public schools need 525 new science teachers each year, but the University of North Carolina system’s 15 teacher education programs, of which Carolina’s is one, collectively produced 216 science teachers in 2005-06 and in 2006-07 nearly 200. Science is one of the highest need areas for qualified teachers in public schools today. 

The School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences have collaborated to create the new program – UNC-BEST – that will launch in fall 2008. To be considered for participation, Carolina students must apply by May 1.

In the past, an undergraduate science major at Carolina had to pursue additional study after graduation to fulfill the requirements for teaching licensure in addition to earning a baccalaureate degree. Now, students can both complete their science degree and fulfill licensure requirements during the undergraduate years through UNC-BEST.  

“This is a landmark activity,” said Jill Fitzgerald, interim dean of the School of Education. “Our program is a unique one which promises to graduate teacher leaders dedicated to the transformation of science education for North Carolina youth.  Science and Education faculty have worked together to create an exciting set of experiences for students in the program.”

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund recently established a Scholars Program, creating scholarships for undergraduates majoring in science or mathematics and pursuing teaching licensure. Burroughs Wellcome Fund scholarships are available to eligible UNC-BEST students on a competitive basis.

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Scholars will receive an annual scholarship of $6,500 during their junior and senior years. Additionally, the scholars who go on to teach in N.C. public schools will receive extra support as they transition into their own classrooms as new teachers as well as a $5,000 annual salary supplement for up to five years.   

The UNC-BEST initiative was sparked in 2006 when Tom James, then dean of the School of Education, met with the chairs of the University’s science departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Based on a common understanding of the need for qualified science teachers in the state’s schools, James and representatives of the biology and physics and astronomy departments began planning ways to encourage and enable science majors to find their way into the teaching profession.

“This program has the potential to significantly increase the number of secondary school science teachers with a major in biology or physics,” said Steven Matson, chair of the biology department. “Many of these students will have participated in a research project during their undergraduate career and will bring the excitement of scientific discovery into the high school classroom.”

“We know that one of the most important factors that influences young people to pursue careers in science is an excellent and enthusiastic high school teacher,” said Laurie McNeil, chair of the department of physics and astronomy. “We expect that UNC-BEST graduates will help to increase the number of North Carolinians who prepare themselves to participate fully in the ‘knowledge economy.’”

The program encourages applications from qualified undergraduates enrolled or planning to enroll in a major housed in the College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of biology or physics and astronomy.