Minneapolis campus of St. Thomas
Liam James Doyle / University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Receives $1.1M in Funding to Support Educating Diverse K-12 STEM Teachers

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, as well as Congresswoman Betty McCollum from the state’s Fourth District, announced in June that they helped secure more than $1.1 million in federal funding for the School of Education and Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas and the South St. Paul School District to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers, particularly teachers of color, who work in the community.

School of Education Professor Dr. Debbie Monson led the four-year effort by an interdisciplinary group of faculty to secure these much-needed funds. The goal of the project is to develop a broader range of young Minnesotans interested in STEM by training teachers to work effectively in high-need school districts. The project will recruit students at the Dougherty Family College, a two-year institution helping underserved students transition to four-year institutions and prepare them to teach in schools across the South Saint Paul School District.

Studies have shown that students of color taught by teachers of the same race or ethnicity have lower dropout rates and higher standardized test scores, which helps young learners develop STEM skills and participate in the STEM workforce. There are an estimated 11,000 STEM jobs in Minnesota that remain unfilled, according to Minnesota Technology Association, and that number is only expected to grow as demand for STEM careers continues to increases.

“To strengthen our global leadership in science and technology, American students must receive world-class training and education,” Klobuchar said. “This federal grant will enable the University of St. Thomas, Dougherty Family College, and the South St. Paul School District to hire more STEM teachers and better prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.”

“Preparing educators who can help fill equity gaps in Minnesota is an important part of our St. Thomas mission,” said University of St. Thomas President Rob Vischer. “Our DFC scholars will now have a bright path to a career in education, thanks to this federal partnership.”

Students from Maxfield Elementary in St. Paul work with Squishy Circuits in the Anderson Student Center on May 5, 2023, under the guidance of St. Thomas students. The Maxfield students were on campus through the school’s partnership with the School of Education.

The funding comes from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. The funds will support the Pathways program at the university to help provide a much-needed pool of qualified STEM teachers who better reflect the changing demographics of Minnesota’s public schools.

“Preparing these students to deal successfully with the challenges of teaching in a high-needs school, while limiting their postgraduate financial obligations through a Noyce scholarship, will lead to more teachers remaining in their positions in high-needs schools once their Noyce obligation has been fulfilled,” said Amy Smith, the dean of the School of Education at St. Thomas. “The addition of STEM teachers of color will provide valuable role models for children from underrepresented populations where such role models are scarce, making it more likely that these students will follow a STEM pathway as they continue their education.”

The Pathways program will also serve as a model for other universities building out programming and support structures to increase recruitment and retention of STEM students from underrepresented groups pursuing teacher certification.

“Every student deserves the opportunity to succeed and build a bright future for themselves, and that all starts with a great education and great teachers,” Sen. Smith said. “Minnesota has a robust STEM workforce, and we need to continue to support our young scholars in pursuing STEM careers. This funding will help teachers support students interested in STEM, no matter the student’s background.”

“Increasing the number and diversity of STEM teachers in high-need schools is vital to closing equity gaps for Minnesota’s students,” Congresswoman McCollum added. “As a former teacher, I am eager to see the University of St. Thomas put these federal funds to good use, preparing diverse STEM educators to support all young scholars.”

The St. Thomas faculty who submitted the grant proposal included faculty from the School of Education, Debbie Monson and Muffet Trout; College of Arts and Sciences faculty Chip Small, Rebecca Glover and Mike Wood; as well as Dougherty Family College Associate Dean of Academics Sarah McCann.