NSF Gives UH $985K Grant to Boost Science Education in Houston

Robert Noyce Scholarship Program to Graduate More Physics, Chemistry Majors

Robert Noyce Scholars
The first five students selected as Robert Noyce Scholars through a $985K grant made possible by the National Science Foundation are (from left to right) Riley Hatch, Jessica Ogbonmwan, Geoffrey Hart, Diana Del Bosque and Joshua Kehr. (Credit: Thomas Campbell)
To meet the need for more math and science teachers, the University of Houston (UH) is using a $985,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to recruit, prepare and retain more physics and chemistry majors.

The five-year grant from the NSF’s Robert Noyce Scholarship Program will build on the foundation of UH’s teachHOUSTON program that has grown from 14 to 383 students in just the five years since it was created. A math and science teacher-preparation program focused on the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, teachHOUSTON’s goal is to help urban schools attract and retain qualified secondary personnel by immersing aspiring educators in public school classrooms early in their college careers.

Since its inception, 28 students have graduated from the teachHOUSTON program, mostly from math and biology. This grant will address the need to raise the number of chemistry and physics graduates. Led by professors Donna Stokes in physics, Simon Bott in chemistry and Paige Evans in mathematics, the goal is to provide content-knowledgeable physics and chemistry teachers to 24 school districts in the Houston area.

With the funds made possible by the program, junior and senior physics and chemistry majors and minors, as well as post-baccalaureate students seeking secondary teacher certification in physics or chemistry, will be eligible to apply for the $12,000-per-year scholarships. The number of available scholarships will increase incrementally each year – up to 12 awarded by the fifth year – with 60 percent expected to be given to physics majors or minors annually. If the first five Noyce scholars awarded under this new grant are any indication, the future of STEM education in Houston is looking promisingly strong.

“I’ve been so fortunate to receive the Noyce scholarship, and I now feel a responsibility to contribute to society by motivating students not only to do their best in school, but also encouraging them to go to college and achieve their dreams,” said graduating senior Diana Del Bosque. “I hope to get a job as a science teacher in an urban high school and encourage my students to pursue careers in science. Many students enter college undecided about their majors. One reason might be because they haven’t been introduced to the types of careers they could pursue in different fields, so I would love to incorporate careers in science as part of my curriculum.”

Del Bosque’s ultimate plans are to work with other science teachers to develop student-centered and engaging lessons for students, as well as create a bridge program to help in the transition between high school and college science courses, providing opportunities for students to explore different careers in STEM. Sharing this enthusiasm is physics major Joshua Kehr.

“I feel physics is the study of what makes the physical universe tick, so to speak, and hope to leave UH with as much a mastery of undergraduate physics as possible and a good grounding in teaching methodology and practice. The more mastery in these areas I can achieve, the better for my students,” Kehr said. “And I encourage other students considering a STEM degree not to give up. The understanding of how we think the universe works and how to apply that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts of a STEM degree. The world literally becomes a big opportunity for you.”

This most recent group of Noyce scholars not only shares a passion for their fields of study, but also for the teachHOUSTON program. Each emphasizes the well-rounded, on-the-job training the program affords them.

Robert Noyce Scholars“I loved that I was able to experience being in a classroom and teaching a lesson that I had prepared. This was a major deciding factor of whether I wanted to teach and whether I had the confidence to teach in front of a classroom,” said Jessica Ogbonmwan, a senior chemistry major with a minor in education. “Being in this program not only helped me grow in my teaching skills, but also in my leadership and social skills. This is what gave me the courage to strive to become a better teacher and leader. I want to have that same effect on my students as teachHOUSTON had on me. My objective as a teacher is to impact students in ways that will motivate them and encourage them to achieve their education.”

These students also speak to the relevance of physics and chemistry in daily life, which is often difficult for students to grasp. Ogbonmwan explains, “Chemistry is about learning how everything works around you. It’s all around us, such as in the medicine we take, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the air we breathe. Chemistry is everywhere.”

Geoffrey Hart echoes this sentiment with his refreshing take on physics and says, “Math is the tool of all science, and physics is the most direct science that pulls the resources acquired from mathematics and puts them into applicable scenarios. It’s what keeps this world running. Ever since I took my first high school physics course, I believed it was the most ideal science course I’d ever taken. I was finally able to apply my knowledge in math to real life. To me, it’s the easiest science to demonstrate and describe concepts.”

Senior Riley Hatch adds, “With a degree in STEM, there are nothing but open doors in front of you. It was STEM that put Apollo 11 on the moon. It was STEM that helped Curiosity to reach Mars. It is STEM where advancements are made toward the treatment of every disease and detriment to our ability to live a healthy life. An education in STEM has done more for my feeling of connectedness and interest in the world in which I live than I could ever have imagined. I would recommend this path to anyone. Everyday truly is a new adventure when one is studying the wonders of nature.”

In addition to the scholarships, the grant will support 12 freshman and sophomore STEM majors with $2,700 stipends for a six-week summer internship with the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp held at UH annually, which is a STEM camp for underserved middle school students. This will engage the Noyce scholars as mentors and advisors, as well as expose them to teaching STEM-related content early on in their academic careers. The internship program also will serve as a recruiting tool for future Noyce scholars.

- Lisa Merkl, UH Communication