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Teachers, Astronauts and Fire-breathing Dragons

The 12th annual UTeach Conference in Austin started with a bang and ended in space.
The convening of 400+ program co-directors, faculty, staff and students from universities with UTeach programs devoted to strengthening STEM education was bookmarked with celebrity scientists and filled in with inspirational and informative sessions about collaborative efforts to develop more highly qualified math and science teachers across the country.

Fire-Dragon.PNGFire-breathing Dr. Kate Biberdorf (also known as Kate the Chemist) kicked things off with arguably the most exciting chemistry class anyone had ever taken. Her hands-on demos with liquid nitrogen, balloon animals and gummy worms set the stage for the conference and affirmed, in her words, that “anyone can be a scientist.” The two-day conference finished strong with NMSI’s CEO Dr. Bernard Harris’ keynote detailing his journey to becoming a spacewalking astronaut and medical doctor.

The expansion of UTeach is NMSI’s flagship Teacher Pathways work that enables undergraduate STEM students to earn secondary teaching certifications to increase the number of highly qualified STEM teachers in U.S. secondary schools. It started at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997, and in 2006 the UTeach Institute was established to support replication of UTeach at universities across the country.

Today, UTeach is in 44 universities in 22 states and the District of Columbia. It has produced 4,517 graduates, more than 80 percent of whom teach for at least three years and mor ethan 60 percent of whom teach in schools with high enrollment of students from low-income families.
Here were some of our big takeaways:

Generally speaking, there is a negative perception of the teaching profession. As we address the STEM teacher needs of school districts around the country, it is also important that we address the culture around STEM teaching – it is a STEM career!" – Lindsay Hammond, UTeach Program Manager

"UTeach sites are an incredible network of innovators and I would love to do more to celebrate the UTeach graduates each year as they enter their classrooms. The group [at the conference] is so focused on continuously improving and thinking through all of the changes and improvements they want to make to their programs, and I would love to celebrate the accomplishments that they have made – UTeach has incredible retention numbers and the impact of the teachers on student learning is also really strong." – Melissa Moritz, VP Strategic Initiatives

"I was inspired by how presenters – and the conference as a whole – debunked the theory that elite science and math students aren’t interested in teaching careers."  -Lauren Little, Marketing/Communications Manager

[On the challenges of rural replication] "It has become an ingrained habit in rural communities to send off promising young adults to ‘make something of themselves.’ These rural [UTeach] programs are working to keep students in their communities and through different recruitment tactics and better supports."  -Stacy Miles, Chief Operating Office

“The most inspiring part of this conference is hearing from [UTeach] students and seeing their eagerness to dive into teaching. Their enthusiasm for resources and tools and passion for their chosen career field is energizing and makes me excited to see what they will go on to do for students.
– Stephanie Markman, Regional Growth Manager

NMSI Senior Director of Teaching & Development
Ronda Brandon (L) and VP Strategic Initiatives
Melissa Moritz (R)
presented a session on bridging the
divide between STEM
teacher production and local district

Participants learned how to make lactose-free milk for cats.
Did you know that 75% of humans are lactose intolerant?


NMSI CEO Dr. Bernard Harris shared his journey through
a STEM education and career that paved the way for him

to walk in space as a NASA astronaut.

Be sure to check out more conference highlights on Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about NMSI’s STEM Teacher Pathways, click here.