by Julie Lineback

Katie Sheffield has always been drawn to teaching.

After graduating from the University of West Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2016, she worked in several education-related positions first as a specialist and environmental educator at the Georgia Aquarium and then as a science educator at the Discovery Science Center.

Adult and child work on a chemistry assignmentWhile she was an undergraduate at UWG, she briefly participated in uTeach, an innovative and highly successful teacher preparation program for students majoring in science and mathematics. UWG is one of only two institutions in the state using the model.

“The timing wasn’t right, so I focused solely on my biology degree,” she recalled. “After graduating, all of the jobs I had were teaching jobs in some capacity, even though I wasn’t in the traditional school-based classroom.”

Since she and her husband both had full-time jobs, Sheffield decided to look for an online graduate degree to continue her personal education.

“Teaching made me happy, and it challenged me to grow at the same time,” she shared. “I chose UWG’s Master of Art in Teaching (MAT) in Secondary Education program so I could obtain a teaching certificate that would allow me to teach science in a school setting and give me flexibility between grade level and science content.”

Dr. Anne Gaquere-Parker, professor of chemistry in UWG’s College of Science and Mathematics, teaches in the program with the College of Education’s Dr. Brent Gilles. She described the hybrid MAT program as unique in its design.

“We provide a second chance to STEM majors who, toward the end of their undergraduate career, realize how amazing teaching is,” Gaquere-Parker said.

“It’s also available for individuals in STEM careers who decide they want to teach,” Gilles added.

In addition to having access to state-of-the-art technology via the COE Innovations Lab and UWGLive Simulations, another program distinctive allows participants to receive scholarship funds through the National Science Foundation. The grant was secured in 2019 by COE Dean Dr. Dianne Hoff, along with a team of committed faculty members that included co-principal investigators Gaquere-Parker and Gilles. With the support of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, also referred to as the Noyce MAT Impact Fellow Scholarship, student recipients have the majority of their tuition and fees covered.

“Impact Fellows are also supported financially and educationally beyond the MAT program to provide more complete support as they are in the early phases of their teaching careers,” Gilles said.

Recipients are asked to commit to teaching in a high-needs school district in Georgia, where in addition to leadership and professional development opportunities, they will also receive a $10,000 salary stipend for up to four years following graduation.

These schools need teachers who are highly qualified in their content area to give appropriate and challenging instruction, Sheffield said.

“The teacher is often a motivator and a mentor to the students,” she mused. “Teachers provide support for them to succeed and grow.”

The flexible program also includes a mentoring aspect and professional development opportunities.

Better preparation and support will result in better STEM teacher retention for the region and state.

“This program is going to have a tremendous impact on teacher recruitment,” Gaquere-Parker stated. “Our stated goal is to recruit and train 20 STEM teachers. Having a larger and stronger set of STEM teachers, as our project will produce over the next five years, ensures that better-prepared teachers teach science and mathematics in the schools, which in turn will provide colleges and universities with better-prepared STEM undergraduate majors strengthening our STEM programs.”

Katie Sheffield
Katie Sheffield

Sheffield is concentrating on secondary education in broad field science. She started the program in fall 2019 and plans to graduate in spring 2021. 

“I want students to make connections to science, whether it’s a personal connection or a connection between the science in the classroom and the world outside of the classroom,” she shared. “Once that connection is made, there will be a lasting impression or impact made on the student.”

For more information about UWG’s Master of Arts in Teaching, visit www.westga.edu/academics/program_page.php?program_id=186. For more information about the Noyce MAT Impact Fellow Scholarship, visit www.westga.edu/academics/education/ecse/MAT-noyce_scholarship.php

Posted on May 12, 2020