Studying Sciences + Math Now = Power Careers in the Future

Studying Sciences + Math Now = Power Careers in the Future

Active classroom learning
Photo courtesy of Debasree Raychaudhuri

Cal State L.A. math and science students in the teaching options gather for an advisement and counseling meeting organized by the Math and Science Teacher Initiative.

teach tech

Cal State L.A. was recently awarded a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support the University's IMPACT LA (Improving Minority Partnerships and Access through Computer/Information Science/Engineering-related Teaching) program.

As a result of the program, three graduate students have had the opportunity to teach in local middle and high schools and share their love for technology and science with the next generation.

The goal of the program is to “increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue college degrees and careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, and to strengthen the research and teaching skills of Cal State L.A.’s graduate fellows,” said IMPACT LA Director Nancy Warter-Perez.

For more information on the program, read “IMPACT LA puts tech trio in local schools as NSF Fellows” or visit the program's web site.

As a mathematics professor, Debasree Raychaudhuri has a lot of experience with solving complex equations and developing algorithms.

One equation that Raychaudhuri and several of her colleagues are still trying to solve, though, is how to increase the number of math and science teachers.

In recent years, concerns over the shortage of math and science teachers and the limited number of students pursing degrees and credentials in the all important fields related to these studies have skyrocketed across the nation. A shortage of teachers, experts say, could result in a lower quality of education and lack of professionals to fill critical jobs in such fields, which in turn could put the economy in jeopardy.

In the state of California alone, it’s estimated that more than 33,000 new math and science teachers will be needed in middle and high schools in the next decade, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning reports.

“They call it the gathering storm,” said Raychaudhuri, who is also the director of Cal State L.A.’s Math and Science Teacher Initiative. “It’s everybody’s problem and all the [CSU] campuses, every single person involved is working toward a solution.”

One such solution is the Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MSTI). Funded by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, the goal of the initiative is to have a 50 percent increase in the number of math and science secondary teachers who graduate from Cal State L.A. by 2010.

Raychaudhuri, along with seven other faculty members – drawing from the fields of math, biology, chemistry, physics and education – have been collaborating to provide a clearer pathway for students interested in the degree/credential programs. One of their main areas of focus has been in promoting the University’s degree programs at partner community colleges and streamlining the transfer process for students.

In addition, the MSTI grant provides professors time to advise and support students, and to design curriculum that trains students on how to use advanced math and science skill to improve teaching techniques at the more rudimentary, middle and high school level. (As a result of this endeavor a new math bachelor’s blended option – which will be open to students in the fall – was designed to allow students to work on their degree and credential at the same time, shortening the amount of time a student is in school.)

Issac Langarica, a graduate student who is pursing his master’s degree in math and a teaching credential, said that he enjoys learning teaching and math skills simultaneously because you can see how the two complement each other.

“You see the theory and then you see the application,” he said. “You learn that this might work, and this might not.”

MSTI, Langarica added, helps students by showing them how to bridge the gap between content and application, as well as by offering students academic support, guidance and tuition assistance.

Another significant accomplishment of the initiative, Paul Narguizian, professor of biological sciences and education, said is the increased collaboration and communication among the University’s colleges.

Narguizian’s position as a biology educator – with James Rudd as the chemistry educator – is a prime example of how the College of Natural and Social Sciences and the Charter College of Education have teamed up to address the teacher crisis.

“(Our positions) allow us the opportunity to advise students who have either already decided they want to teach science or students who never even thought of science teaching as a career, but who now have an option in doing so,” he said.

By talking to students in both colleges early on about teaching career options in the fields, Narguizian said he hopes to increase the number of graduates from those areas.

As it stands, only about half of the University’s math majors who have the option of getting their single subject teaching credential go on to do so at Cal State L.A. Similarly, the number of students pursing science credentials has dwindled to single digits in every area, except biology, over the last four years.

The numbers can be discouraging at first glance, but faculty members emphasize that collaboration work is still in the beginning phase, and an increase in math and science teachers is expected.

“As the work continues to build momentum with the outreach effort, streamlined pathways, customized curricula and academic support – and, most importantly, with the shared recognition of teaching as a prestigious career choice,” we will see a turnaround, Raychaudhuri said.