Drexel Celebrates New Program to Steer STEM Students Toward Teaching

President Fry

The United States needs more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers. And Drexel has a wealth of bright students studying in those same fields.

Now, a new program will connect Drexel’s strength with the nation’s need. It’s called DragonsTeach, and it will recruit and train STEM majors at Drexel to become secondary teachers in those fields. Students, faculty, Drexel leaders and visiting dignitaries marked the program’s launch Monday with a kickoff program.

“UTeach is the kind of program that every college and university in the nation should be cheering for,” President John Fry told the crowd present. “But it’s an especially great fit for Drexel University. It’s true to our character. It’s completely aligned with our strategic priorities as a university.”

That’s because the program will involve intensive student-teaching experience that will send undergraduates into Philadelphia schools to teach — making it go hand-in-hand with the University’s emphasis on experiential learning and civic engagement.

DragonsTeach will be one of 39 efforts around the country to replicate a program called UTeach that began at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. Drexel, along with four other universities around the country, received a $1.45 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative this year to start its own program. Five more will follow next year, bringing the total number of universities to 45.

Together, they’ll help answer a call from President Obama for 100,000 new U.S. STEM teachers by 2021. And Drexel will aim to meet a local need, as well.

“What better way to impact a community than to build a strong pipeline of great teachers?” Fry said. “All of us who labor in Philadelphia and love Philadelphia know that that is simply the most important issue of our generation.”

DragonsTeach will be a collaborative effort among the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering — a cross-campus connection that Fry applauded.

“This is exactly the kind of work that we want to encourage at our University,” Fry said.

Kimberly Hughes, the director of the UTeach Institute, visited from Texas for the kickoff. She told the crowd present that research universities such as Drexel were the “single best source” for the K-12 STEM teachers that the nation sorely needs to retain its strength in science and technology. The program’s key, she said, is that it’s aimed toward students who didn’t come to college expecting to become teachers.

“UTeach is really designed for students who do not yet know that they want to become teachers but have the potential to be great teachers,” Hughes said. “Our goal is to help them discover that potential and to help them realize that potential.”

Jason Silverman, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Education, added that the program will also help even Drexel’s STEM students who opt for other careers besides teaching.

“We all know that you learn something better once you’ve taught it,” said Silverman, himself a former secondary math and physics teacher.

Silverman said that any Drexel students interested in the program should contact leaders by sending an email to dragonsteach@drexel.edu. The program’s first course will be offered in winter 2015, he said.

Drexel’s students will add to a total of 7,000 across the country who took part in UTeach programs in 2013. By 2020, Fry noted, projections say that nearly 5 million students around the U.S. will have been taught at some point by a UTeach graduate.

“I’m looking forward to seeing DragonsTeach have an impact not only on our students but on the students they’ll go and teach,” Fry said, “and ultimately on America’s future, because that’s the bet that we’re making today.”