MORGANTOWN — In addition to forming partnerships to improve the state’s economy, the West Virginia Forward initiative includes several programs to boost science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs to strengthen the workforce.
Details on some of these programs were among several presentations given during West Virginia University’s recent Academic Media day.
One such program is the West Virginia Health Sciences & Technology Academy.
Active in more than 20 counties, the academy aims to reach under-served high school students throughout the state and set them on a college-ready path.
Ann Chester, director of the academy and assistant vice president for education partnerships for WVU’s Health Sciences Center, said students who take part in the program are only admitted during the ninth grade.
The students participate in a number of summer camps along with research, learning and community service activities. Many of these projects involve local issues, such as disposing of opioids or protecting clean water supplies.
Students who complete all the requirements receive college tuition waivers.
“This is not a handout; it’s a hand-up,” Chester said, emphasizing the amount of work that academy participants put in. “It’s blowing the ceiling off the outcomes.”
More than 2,300 students have completed the academy since it began in 1994. Chester said those who complete it are not required to pursue a STEM major in college, but 60 percent of them do.
Only 33 percent of college students nationwide are enrolled in a STEM major, and only 21 percent of West Virginia college students are.
What’s more, Chester said 99 percent of those who complete the academy go on to college, with a graduation rate of well over 90 percent, whereas national rates for these categories stand at about 70 and 60 percent, respectively.
Partnering with the academy is the WVUteach initiative, which is designed to get college students in STEM-related majors into the state’s classrooms. These students are not enrolled in education as a major but do have an interest in sharing their expertise.
Candidates complete a 27-to 30-credit-hour course of study that includes early and frequent classroom experiences prior to their student teaching experiences. Instructional methods are inquiry-based with an emphasis on active student learning, integrated technology and project-based instruction. Those who complete the program are eligible for secondary teaching certification by the West Virginia Department of Education in tandem with a 4-year STEM degree.
Gay Stewart, Eberly professor of STEM education, said these students are in a unique position to be great teachers and that WVUteach and the academy complement each other.
“Partnering with HSTA is sort of a natural fit,” she said. “One of the problems with HSTA is a lot of the practicing teachers, while they’re excellent and know a lot about helping students learn, they don’t come from a research background, so it’s hard to connect those students to research. Hopefully, in another generation, we’ll have a state full of teachers who can do that.”
However, Stewart said events outside the program on the state and national level have created some challenges for WVUteach to overcome. For example, she said three students completed the program, with two going into teaching and a third student undecided.
She said this indecision came in the wake of President Donald Trump saying teachers should be armed after school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere.
As for the statewide teachers strike earlier this year, Stewart said progress is being made addressing educators’ concerns, but they are far from resolved. Stewart said WVUteach has never sugar-coated the realities of being a teacher on program participants, but she was upbeat by the amount of public support the teachers retained during the strike.