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$1.45M NSF Grant Awarded to Longwood University to Expand STEM Teacher Pipeline to Rural Areas

Longwood University faculty members were recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling $1.45 million to recruit and support future secondary school teachers who want to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects in Southside and southwestern Virginia.

The NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program grant will fund a five-year project that aims to serve the national need for preparing and retaining highly qualified science and mathematics teachers to teach in rural, high-need school districts. The grant will be used to provide scholarships and academic support to 20 undergraduate students, 14 of whom will be transfers from the Virginia Community College System who will major in biology, chemistry, mathematics or physics and pursue a STEM teaching career.

Longwood partnered with Patrick & Henry Community College in Martinsville and Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke in seeking the grant, which also aims to build pathways from the two community colleges to a four-year STEM degree and teaching licensure.

“With this grant and Longwood’s partnership with two community colleges, our faculty and staff have been truly innovative in seeking to address a critical need, while also building on our historic strength in teacher education,” said Larissa Smith, Longwood provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This funding will help address teacher shortages in rural Southside and southwest Virginia by recruiting students in these areas and preparing them to become successful STEM teachers. I am grateful for the initiative and hard work of our faculty in applying for this grant and delighted that the NSF is continuing to make an investment in our approach.”

The lead investigator for the grant is Leah Shilling-Stouffer, associate professor of mathematics education. She teamed up with Melissa Rhoten, professor of chemistry, Patricia Horne Hastings, associate professor of elementary education, and Sharon Emerson-Stonnell, professor of mathematics, to found the InVEST in STEM program (Increasing the Value of Education for Secondary Teachers in STEM). The program’s “grow-your-own” approach of recruiting students from their local areas and then later placing them as STEM teachers in these same areas will address critical teacher shortages in rural areas of Southside and southwest Virginia.

“I’ve been here for 13 years and this is probably my greatest professional achievement thus far,” said Shilling-Stouffer. “Getting the chance to work and collaborate with my colleagues across different departments and across different colleges—there’s just nothing like that. We are all rowing the boat in the same direction because we know this funding will help the Southside region.”

The Longwood students supported by the Noyce funding should enter the workforce with limited or no student debt. These students will teach at a high-need school for two years for every year of funding earned.

“STEM teacher education has been a passion of mine personally, as well as many of my colleagues,” said Bryan Snare, program head of mathematics at Virginia Western Community College. “We believe this grant will be incredibly impactful for the students of the Roanoke Valley. For us professionally, there is no better way to extend our reach than to teach future teachers.”

Christopher Wikstrom, vice president of academic and student success services at Patrick & Henry Community College, echoed the same sentiment.

“We are honored and excited to be one of the community college partners for the Noyce grant,” he said. “We look forward to facilitating our role to increase STEM teachers in our service region.”

Including the Noyce grant, Longwood faculty members have received more than $4.6 million in grant funding from the NSF in the last four years.

The Noyce program supports talented STEM undergraduate majors and professionals who want to become K-12 STEM teachers and supports experienced K-12 teachers who want to become STEM master teachers in high-need school districts.

The NSF is an independent federal agency, established in 1950 by Congress, that promotes the progress of science by supporting basic research and the goals of discovery, learning, research infrastructure and stewardship. The NSF also works to expand the scientific literacy of all citizens, and one of its missions is to support science and engineering education from pre-K through graduate school and beyond.

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