Ds Scholarship

$1.45 million NSF grant to fund scholarships for future science teachers

DeKalb, Ill. Over the next five years, Northern Illinois University will award more than $1 million in scholarship and stipend support to students who dream of careers as high school science teachers.

The financial support comes through a new National Science Foundation grant to NIU’s Secondary Science Educator Licensure Program, which plans to provide as much as $40,000 in scholarships to each of roughly 20 select students.

In all, the science license program is receiving $1.45 million in funding to partner with Waubonsee Community College (WCC) and West Aurora High School in creating the NIU Noyce Scholarship Program. The program addresses critical teacher-shortages in Illinois, particularly among secondary science teachers.

The effort is supported by NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which encourages recruitment and preparation of K-12 STEM teachers in high-need school districts.

The NIU Noyce Scholarship Program will create financial security for select prospective science teachers, provide them with mentoring and culturally relevant teaching skills, and promote continuity within the profession. Over the course of their careers, the future teachers will potentially impact the education of tens of thousands of students.

Nicole LaDue

“Working to secure this grant has been a passion project, not a job,” said program lead Nicole LaDue, an NIU associate professor of Geoscience Education. “The program leaders at NIU are all former high school science teachers. Now we work in teacher preparation because of our commitment to students. This effort is a great way to pay it forward.”

In addition to LaDue, the program is being coordinated by Paul Fix, NIU director of Secondary Science Educator Licensure; Physics Professor Mike Eads; Educational Psychology Professor Daryl Dugas; and WCC Assistant Dean for Mathematics and Sciences Lorrie Stahl.

Potentially $40K-plus per student

In each of the next four years, the NIU Noyce Scholarship Program will award $20,000 scholarships to a new cohort of at least five NIU juniors and seniors (including transfer students). The students must be majoring in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, environmental science or physics and pursuing secondary science educator licensure.

Recruitment has already begun, with the first cohort of NIU Noyce Scholars to be selected this spring and start program courses this coming fall. Juniors who continue to meet program requirements can potentially earn the scholarship for two consecutive years, for a total of $40,000 in individual financial support, plus substantial stipends that can be earned at WCC prior to coming to NIU.

The partnership with WCC will provide paid eight-week summer internships for the community college students to serve as NIU STEAM summer camp instructors and paid peer tutors at the college. The goal is to provide those students with early teaching experiences to ignite their career interests and with financial support prior to enrollment at NIU.

Paul Fix

“For me personally, this is what I love about the NIU Noyce Scholarship Program—it’s all about giving back to the students,” Fix said. “A huge percentage of the funding goes right to the students to reduce financial barriers to becoming a science teacher.”

While any qualifying student can apply for the scholarship, priority will be given to students who attend WCC and participate in NIU Noyce Scholarship Program internships or tutoring. After graduation, scholarship recipients will be required to teach in high-need school districts for at least two years per year of scholarship received.

Addressing a critical need

The critical teacher shortage has been well documented in studies and the news media. Nationally, nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, and fewer students are pursuing careers in the field.

From 2010 to 2018, teacher-preparation program enrollment declined by an estimated 35% nationwide, with Illinois having the fifth highest decline in the country. Beginning in 2017, the state saw teacher shortages in all science areas. The pandemic has likely intensified the need, as more teachers report considering earlier retirement.

“Often people don’t know they want to be teachers until they teach,” Fix said. For the past several years, Fix has been cultivating a close relationship with WCC, a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and one of its feeder schools, West Aurora High School, which has a diverse ethnic and socio-economic student population.

“By providing internships and money for students at Waubonsee to be summer camp instructors and peer tutors, we’ll expose more students to the world of teaching even before they reach NIU,” Fix said.

NIU alumni to serve as mentors

The NIU Noyce Scholarship Program promises to deliver teaching and learning grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards. NIU Noyce Scholars will observe, help plan lessons and take an active part in science classes at West Aurora High School, learning to incorporate culturally relevant instruction into their own clinical teaching experiences.

NIU also is adding new courses in its science educator program that focus on creating a sense of community in the classroom and connecting lessons to students’ real lives.

NIU Noyce Scholars will receive support from their professors outside of class to discuss and reflect upon their clinical experiences. They also will be mentored by one of three participating NIU alumni who are science teachers of color currently working in high-need school districts. Once students graduate and enter their careers, they’ll receive additional assistance from NIU’s Dugas, who will lead peer support groups during their service commitments.

“One of the big reasons new teachers leave the profession is because of a lack of support during their first few years, which are typically the hardest,” Fix said. “We want to change that by providing a built-in support system after they graduate.”

It’s not too late for interested students from NIU or any community college to apply for consideration for the first round of scholarships. While priority consideration will be given to those who meet the March 1, 2022 application deadline, applications will be accepted as late as April 15, 2022. Students applying for the scholarships will need to meet licensure program requirements.

Application information is available on the NIU Noyce Scholarship Program website. Interested students with more questions, particularly transfer students, should contact Paul Fix at pfix@niu.edu.

Media Contact: Tom Parisi

About NIU

Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 areas of study while serving a diverse and international student body.

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