Grant awarded by National Science Foundation

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FARMINGTON — A new cross-state program that has been awarded more than $1 million to help increase the number of STEM teachers to service rural communities in parts of the Four Corners region, according to organizers.

The Four Corners Noyce Scholars program is a collaboration between Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and San Juan College. It is funded by the National Science Foundation.

It aims to provide scholarships to graduates who have a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering or math to pursue alternative licensure through San Juan College or Fort Lewis College.

The program also will provide scholarship support for undergraduate students who will pursue licensure along with earning a biology, chemistry, geoscience, math or physics degree.

Anne McCarthy, the interim associate vice president for academic affairs for Fort Lewis College, said the colleges found out they had been awarded the $1.4 million grant in May, and the grant is set to last for five years.

"I'm really excited about the project," McCarthy said.

The program will help strengthen the relationship the two colleges have, she said.

A previously established program allows students in five southwest Colorado counties can receive in-state tuition at San Juan College. Graduates from that institution make up the highest number of transfer students at Fort Lewis College.

Alicia O'Brien, assistant professor of mathematics at San Juan College, said the college has been looking at acquiring a grant to fund the project for a while and started working on it in May 2017.

"It's near and dear to my heart," O'Brien said about the program.

One of the goals is to increase the diversity of and number of certified science and math teachers in the Four Corners region, according to the grant's abstract posted on the National Science Foundation website.

There is a lot of demand for STEM teachers in the region, McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that has forced some school administrators to scramble to find instructors to teach classes they might not be fully qualified or interested in teaching full time.

Scholars who become part of the program as an undergraduate at San Juan College will receive scholarship money to complete their bachelor's degree at Fort Lewis College.

Undergraduate students also will participate with middle and high school students in enrichment activities, including science fairs and math competitions.

The program aims to have 44 teachers over five years complete the certification process and teach in one of 13 high-need partner school districts and 10 community partners in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, according to the abstract.

O'Brien said teachers in the program will be required to teach at one of the participating schools for the amount of time they received scholarship funds.

Graduates who go from San Juan College to Fort Lewis College could teach in San Juan County, according to O'Brien. 

Teachers who graduate from the program also will receive professional development and mentorship, according to McCarthy.

Some of the training includes preparing teachers to work in rural and isolated schools with large Hispanic and Native American populations, according to the abstract. The mentorship and training can be crucial for teachers in their first year when working at smaller, rural schools, McCarthy said.

The program is aiming to train the "whole" person by providing training that includes cultural fluency to help new teachers be successful, according to McCarthy.

Funding for the program could be extended depending on the success of the program, McCarthy said.

Those interested in the program can call O'Brien at 505-566-3193.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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