Fast-track for STEM teachers

Helping to meet a demand for math, science and technology education with a path for professionals to switch careers

Posted on Aug 31, 2016 :: Higher Education
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Today’s high school graduates can expect to work at between 10 to 14 different jobs in their lifetimes, but the nature of their careers will be more complex as technology changes. To help prepare students for the realities of today’s workforce, educators are now looking outside the classrooms for strategic partners in business, government and community organizations. 

Bridging the gap

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is facing an increasing demand for skilled professionals and advanced technology workers, but providing qualified job applicants has become increasingly challenging. To meet that demand, the DPI is paving the way for professionals in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) to bring their much-needed knowledge into the classroom.

Professionals considering teaching at the middle and high school levels need more than passion and drive; they need a teaching license from an accredited education program.  Enter the Alternative Careers in Teaching program (act!), an18-month curriculum tailored to adult career-changers looking for an alternative path to licensure that is flexible, fast and convenient. 

“Across the state we have many teaching job opportunities, and act! is helping to fill those gaps,” says Michael Beeth, associate professor at UW-Oshkosh, and director of the act! program. “For example, we have an individual with a Ph.D. in engineering and nine patents in the paper industry now teaching math and physics in the Fox Valley.”

Act! is a partnership between UW-Oshkosh and five of the two-year campuses at UW-Fox Valley, UW-Fond du Lac, UW-Manitowoc, UW-Marinette, and UW-Sheboygan, all bringing professionals in Northeast Wisconsin with different perspectives and valuable skills to the classroom. Requirements for entry into the act! program include a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and an overall GPA of 2.75 or higher.

More than 70 participants earned teaching licenses since act! launched in 2006, and this year Beeth will mentor 36 enrollees who will train students to work and solve problems in today’s STEM fields. 

“Act! is an excellent bridge for folks wanting to take real world technical experiences and share them in a formal teaching environment,” says Cristina Mullally, an act! graduate who spent over a decade at Fortune 500 companies before becoming a teacher.

Mullally worked for Beloit Corporation before joining Kimberly- Clark to work with machinery and the patented fabrics forming softer toilet paper and stronger paper towels.

“I enjoyed sharing my knowledge, and wanted to pursue teaching youth as a form of public service,” explains Mullally, who is now teaching high school math and science in the Appleton School District. She says act! helped her take the steps she needed.

“It’s truly unique in bringing folks with real world technical experience into our classrooms while offering them an excellent peer and mentoring group to get started in the world of teaching.”

Breaking barriers

The opportunity for students to earn high-tech STEM jobs in the future has never looked brighter.

“By 2020 there will be over 4,000 IT jobs in Northeast Wisconsin, and we’ll need strategists and project managers as well as scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” says Michelle Schuler, co-founder and chapter president of Women in Technology Wisconsin, whose goal is to meet the growing market need in the New North to attract, grow and retain women and girls in technology-related careers.

More school districts in Wisconsin are developing relationships with local companies and professional groups like WIT to teach students skills for the 21st century.

Earlier this year WIT kicked off a collaborative partnership with the Hortonville School District to introduce a computer science club for girls in sixth through 12th grades called Girls Who Code. The after school program was taught by a female engineer with hands-on lessons in basic programming skills as well as developing software like apps and games.

“We were hoping to get 10 girls to sign up. We got 30,” says Schuler, who hopes to see the program grow and expand to other districts. WIT is also working with the Kaukauna School District to support teachers heading up the CARROT program, which offers students a multitude of STEM learning opportunities.

Schuler says technology-related jobs are changing so quickly that young people have to know how to adapt and teachers need to know how to equip their students in this changing landscape.

“We’re helping to change some stereotypes as well,” says Schuler, who points out that technology careers are no longer male dominated and have become much more exciting.  “The goal is to bring teachers up to speed and learn about the opportunities in a way that inspires students to get excited about STEM opportunities beyond their classroom study.”