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Stories of Impact: University of Nevada, Reno Responds to Local Workforce Needs

Ed Prep Matters is featuring “Stories of Impact” to showcase AACTE member institutions with educator preparation programs that are making a positive impact in their communities and beyond through innovative practices. We are committed to sharing members’ success stories and encourage you to do the same.

Teacher shortage is an issue nationwide but especially in Nevada, where 955 classrooms were without licensed teachers at the start of the 2015-16 school year. Now with engineering and technology giants Tesla and Switch establishing a strong presence in northern Nevada, top-quality teachers are in more demand than ever in our community.

“It’s a stressful but exciting time for education in Nevada,” said Kenneth Coll, dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). “With early field experiences and a multitude of specialized programs, our students are gaining from cutting-edge curricula that will prepare them to be confident and effective lifelong educators. We have plans to increase the quantity of teachers we graduate while maintaining the strong focus on quality expected of our education programs.”

By working closely with the Washoe County School District and community, the College of Education is tackling the need for educators in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as well as in English language acquisition and development (ELAD), early childhood education, and special education.

Launched last fall with 42 enrolled students, NevadaTeach is UNR’s implementation of the national UTeach program, which allows undergraduate STEM majors to earn a dual degree in teaching secondary education. According to the UTeach Institute, 87% of spring 2015 graduates from UTeach programs went into teaching.

NevadaTeach Master Teachers Glenn Waddell and Megan Beckam are pleased by the overwhelmingly positive response from students and teachers to the program’s early field experiences.

“The teachers in Washoe County welcomed the changing teacher education program with open arms,” said Waddell, “inviting [students] back to volunteer and teach extra lessons not required by us. They really went above and beyond.”

“When I joined [NevadaTeach], I really wasn’t too interested in being a teacher,” wrote one student. “[Now] I cannot wait to teach.”

The growing need for ELAD teachers is no surprise, as Nevada ranks as the second most diverse state in the country. Since 2012, the college’s Northern Nevada English Learning Initiative (NNELI) has prepared undergraduates to obtain ELAD endorsement as part of their undergraduate teacher licensure program and has offered courses in English as a second language and STEM subjects.

“Forty-five preservice teachers and 18 licensed, practicing teachers have completed the program,” said Project Coordinator Sandra Prytherch. “These inquiry-based courses are cutting edge, and our NNELI completers have specialized knowledge that prepares them for helping English learners succeed in content areas, especially STEM.”

Other UNR programs are meeting critical early childhood and special education needs, with some graduating more than 20 teachers with these specialties per year. Dean Coll notes that additional plans are under way to establish more innovative opportunities for the college to address teaching needs throughout Nevada while adhering to UNR’s commitment to high quality.

Learn more about how UNR and others are addressing the school staffing crisis at the upcoming AACTE press conference, “Educator Preparation Providers Addressing Nevada Teacher Shortage,” on February 22 in Las Vegas. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Aaron Goldstein, AACTE Manager of State Policy & Relations at agoldstein@aacte.org by February 5.


Melissa Burnham is associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. Cece Zhou is the college’s marketing and communications specialist.


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Melissa M. Burnham

University of Nevada, Reno

Cece Zhou

University of Nevada, Reno

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