A New Chemical Reaction: UNM, NSF, STEM and $1.95 Million

April 11, 2023

It’s an old equation with a new solution. Now, new funding, plus a new UNM team is going to equal more STEM educators in New Mexico. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has just awarded a UNM cross-campus collaboration a $1.49 million grant. That money, plus $447,000 in matching funds from the Technology Enhancement fund of New Mexico, will fund the new “Teachers Organizing Diverse Opportunities Across a STEM Ecosystem,” (TODOS) project.  

For the next five years, an interdisciplinary group of faculty researchers will recruit and develop K-12 science teachers as leaders. They will experience enhanced networking with the STEM ecosystem, while supporting equity and inclusive teaching and learning in New Mexico schools.  

The team is built from the College of Education & Human Sciences (COEHS), the School of Engineering and the College of Arts & Sciences

Deena Gould, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Educational Leadership & Policy is leading the following co-principal investigators:

  • School of Engineering: Department of Electrical & Computing Engineering Assistant Professor Tito Busani  
  • College of Arts & Sciences: Earth and Planetary Sciences Distinguished Professor Laura Crossey 
  • College of Education: Department of Teacher Education and Educational Leadership & Policy Associate Professor Shawn Secatero 

School of Public Administration Associate Professor Kun Huang will monitor and provide feedback about the project and how social networking and science teacher leadership evolves over the five-year program.  

The TODOS Team'TODOS' UNM team

“I’m excited. This is a statewide, networking STEM program,” Huang said. “It has huge implications for rural communities, especially for families in out of reach places. It will open multiple, diverse doors for them, to find their way into the STEM field.” 

Together, the research team will recruit 12 exemplary, K-12 science teachers. These teachers will connect with families, communities, and STEM organizations to inspire diverse learning opportunities and attract a greater total of students into science.  

“The program recognizes that families are already doing science through cultural activities and that STEM pertains to college and career and also informal community activities, interests and civic engagement related to cultural programs and citizen science,” Gould said.    

The dozen teachers will be required to stay teaching for five years as Noyce Master Teacher Fellows while completing the rigorous program. Each teacher will be provided a salary supplement of $12,800 per year, as they dive into science education, teacher leadership, and science content related to New Mexico’s STEM ecosystem.  

Each UNM member brings unique, top-notch expertise to each of these teachers. Crossey, for example, represents one of the top graduate programs in the U.S., through Earth & Planetary Sciences. 

“I’m really looking forward to working with the team in advancing this effort. The expertise and engagement of the faculty will provide participants with a foundation that will enable them to not only excel in the STEM fields but greatly impact their communities.” Crossey said. 

After all, who wouldn’t want training from the best in their field? 

“We hope that the project activities will inspire not only these science teachers, but also others statewide to generate a ripple of broader, positive impacts on all students’ science education,” Gould said. 

Busani is an extra critical participant, bringing subject-matter expertise in engineering, an area many K-12 teachers aren’t well-versed in. He believes introducing engineering at earlier points, in a simple way, could improve difficult recruitment efforts in higher education. 

“The goals are to build leadership and networking opportunities across STEM, create learning experiences and help teachers and broaden K-12 success,” he said.  “We want to move from classical STEM education to a more modern curriculum. We want to improve access to higher education and enable more opportunity.” 

The Noyce Master Teacher Fellows will take newly created mini-courses at UNM, including subjects like culturally responsive teaching, college and career exploration, teacher leadership and mentoring in STEM.  

The goal is to generate authentic learning experiences, especially for traditionally underrepresented students in science, as a way to generate positive and empowering student science identities at the intersections of culture, race and gender.  

“Access to science education-focused, long-term professional development opportunities, and networking with STEM professionals, can be challenging for teachers, especially those in rural areas of our state,” Gould said.   

Busani and Huang agree, it’s not just about underrepresented students, but underrepresented educators, often left out because of where they live. 

“This project is a good opportunity to improve STEM education, especially in rural areas where teachers and students aren’t exposed to engineering. All areas are equally important in building a community,” Busani said. 

Noyce Fellows will complete and share leadership projects situated in their own classrooms and school districts with other science teachers through state, regional and national networks.  Inspiration for the role of STEM-based leadership came from Secatero’s POLLEN model. 

“I am very excited to be part of the NSF and TODOS program and the opportunity to share my holistic Corn POLLEN Model in Leadership and Education with the teachers and colleagues,” Secatero said. 

Besides the hands-on experience and real world impact, research about the TODOS project will be going on in the background. That includes reports on teacher retention, student success, and science teacher leadership from a STEM ecosystem perspective. Huang will be conducting relationship surveys and interviews to create relationship maps at key intervals during the five year span. 

“The research has the potential to advance knowledge about how teacher networking in a STEM ecosystem can advance learning opportunities for a diverse range of students,” Gould said.  

Other project partners include the Cuba, Taos, and Gallup school districts, The New Mexico Science Teachers Association, Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, and several cultural and science museums.  

The grant and scholarship program is named for Robert Noyce, who co-founded Intel and invented the integrated circuit, which sparked the personal computer revolution. Noyce cared deeply about the dwindling number of students heading into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.   

Recruitment for the first cohort will begin in May, with an application deadline of July. 1.   

“At the end of five years, we would like to create a self-sustained group of teachers who will be able to effectively communicate what STEM is to their students as well as other teachers,” Busani said. “I’m intrigued about mentoring and how to develop future leaders. We are planting the seed and seeing what grows.”  

Credit: UNM Newsroom