May 11, 2014

Up-and-coming math and science teachers among college students graduating across North Texas

UT Arlington students who spent the past four years in a specialized math and science teaching program, are leaving college to go back to high school — this time as teachers.

Twenty-two math and science majors made history Sunday night when they walked across the stage at the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center.

Students like 21-year-old Kaitlyn O’Dell were the first to graduate from the university’s UTeach Arlington program that started in 2010 to address a shortage of high school math and science teachers.

O’Dell was recruited for the program, which weaves teaching experience into their math and science coursework. Students start with elementary education training and build up to high school education to graduate with degrees in their fields and teaching certificates on the way.

“You have to be excited about the subject,” O’Dell said of teaching. “You cannot teach kids anything you are not excited about.”

Which can be easier said than done in fields experiencing teacher shortages.

Fort Worth, for example, had math and science teacher openings it couldn’t fill even months into the school year, said Greg Hale, assistant dean of the College of Science and a co-director of the Uteach program.

UTeach has a strong partnership with the Fort Worth school district, as well as Arlington and Mansfield. UTeach started at UT Austin in 1997, since then, the program has expanded to 40 universities nationwide.

“Typically what happens is they stay relatively close by,” Hale said.

That means many graduates will accept jobs in Arlington, Fort Worth, Kennedale, Mansfield and the like.

O’Dell is looking to start teaching high school math in the fall in Arlington or another Tarrant County school.

“I’m excited it’s done,” she said of graduating. “… But I’ve lived on campus, worked on campus, my entire life revolved around UTA. Things are going to be changing very quickly.”

Spring graduates

O’Dell was one of more than 4,500 students to graduate from the university this past weekend.

Like UT Arlington, several college institutions across North Texas held spring commencement ceremonies this past weekend.

More than 4,000 students graduated from the University of North Texas this spring, with Friday and Saturday ceremonies at the UNT Coliseum.

On Saturday, about 1,659 students at TCU received degrees in a formal ceremony at Amon G. Carter Stadium. This is the first year the ceremony was held outdoors at the stadium. Among the TCU graduates were 25 students from the Brite Divinity School.

“Commencement is a significant capstone event to a student’s experience at TCU,” said Nowell Donovan, TCU’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Donovan said commencement marks an important celebration on campus, where students have been growing and learning for several years. Currently, the Daniel Meyer Coliseum is under renovation, so the new stadium offers a good venue, Donovan added.

“We wish our graduates well as they go into the world and make it better with what they have learned at TCU,” Donovan said.

Tarrant County College held a commencement ceremony Saturday for about 2,048 students. That ceremony included 13 high school students who earned associate degrees before picking up their high school degrees, according to the college. About 6,426 received their degrees, according to preliminary numbers. That figure is up from 22 percent from last spring, according the college.

The high school students were the first graduating class for TCC’s Early College High School, a program that allows high school students to earn college credits while working on their high school diploma. The students graduating through the program this spring are from Lake Worth and Fort Worth schools.

The state’s largest public universities — Texas A&M and t he University of Texas at Austin — will hold ceremonies throughout this week.

The Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth will award law degrees to about 170 law students during a ceremony to take place on May 16 at the Fort Worth Convention Center Ballroom.

Back to the classroom

While many new graduates will leave their schools behind as proud alumni, UT Arlington wants its UTeach alumni to have an impact on incoming math and science freshman.

Hale said the recent graduates have the skill and training to bring the university to Tier 1 status by educating youth in science and especially math. UTeach is a collaboration of the College of Science and the College of Education and Health Professions.

On-time graduation is a metric of Tier 1, and a “big stumbling block is usually math preparation,” he said.

“They can make a dent in that,” he said.

O’Dell said it’s all about changing kids’ thought process.

“Students that think they can’t do math — you have to get past that. Someone has put that in their brain, but they have have to understand they can get past that,” Hale said.

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