Creating a Supportive and Mentoring Community for Noyce Scholars

Posted on August 11, 2021 by CEPS

Students on boat out on the ocean. data-lightbox='featured'

University of South Alabama Noyce Scholar Pathway to Science graduates recently engaged in a professional development opportunity at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. The group explored Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Sea Lab’s research vessel, the Alabama Discovery, led by College of Education and Professional Studies graduate Greg Graeber, who has served as a marine educator at the Sea Lab for more than 18 years. 

Dr. Katie Guffey, assistant professor of science education at the USA College of Education and Professional Studies, organized the opportunity funded by USA’s National Science Foundation Noyce Scholarship Program through its Pathway to Science II grant.

“It’s important for our scholars to continue engaging in professional learning communities to further their understanding of science and engineering practices in our local community,” Guffey said. “Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are rich in science content so it makes sense to tap into this local resource. As a result, teachers can help their K-12 students make connections between the content they are learning in the classroom to the real world, specifically their home, the Gulf Coast.”

The 14 Noyce Scholars and Mobile and Baldwin County teachers learned about the biology, ecology and diversity of this incredible ecosystem by trawling to collect and identify animals that inhabit Alabama’s coastal waters. They also used scientific equipment to collect and observe plankton and to measure various physical parameters of the water while at sea.

Audrey Carrio Reintjes, a Noyce Scholar and South graduate, teaches 11th and 12th grade physics at Baker High School in Mobile.

“As a Noyce Scholar, I was lucky enough to spend the day networking and exploring the beautiful Gulf of Mexico with Greg, who is one of the Sea Lab’s most knowledgeable instructors,” Reintjes said. “He was our guide as we set out to examine and learn about the incredible ecosystems that surround our Alabama coastline. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but think how much my students would enjoy attending a similar trip and learning more about their local environment. We ended our day with a delicious picnic lunch and fellowship under the Dauphin Island Sea Lab classroom.”

Dr. Tina Miller-Way, who serves as chair of the Discovery Hall Programs for Education and Outreach at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said she enjoys their close relationship with the University of South Alabama. 

“We are pleased that the relationship extends to the College of Education and Professional Studies,” Miller-Way said. “The education group at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Discovery Hall Programs, was delighted to host the Noyce Scholars this summer, and we look forward to providing informal education experiences for USA students and working to further ocean STEM and science literacy for all Alabama students in future collaborations.”

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, responds to the critical need for K-12 teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, by encouraging talented students and professionals to pursue science teaching careers. Dr. André Green, associate vice president of Academic Affairs and professor in science education at the University of South Alabama, was awarded the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant, Pathway to Science, in 2009 and Pathway to Science II  in 2016 in collaboration with the College of Arts and Science through their math and science departments. 

Dr. Susan Ferguson, associate professor and program coordinator of secondary education at the University of South Alabama, served as co-principal investigator and project director of the scholarship program and ensured that the overall goals were achieved. Ferguson advised and mentored each Noyce Scholar and has maintained close relationships with each scholar. Over the past decade, 33 scholars have graduated from the program, which more than doubled the number of graduate level science teachers produced by the university as compared to the previous pre-grant decade. Additionally, the majority of graduates are still teaching science in our community. 

The scholarship program also yielded a further reaching impact in that two of the teachers have been named Secondary Teachers of the Year for their school systems and for the region; three have been Secondary Teacher of the Year candidates’ for their schools; and two program graduates have continued their education by completing educational specialist degrees in teacher leadership. Additionally, more than half of the graduates serve as department chairs for the science departments at their schools, and nearly all participate in the mentorship of pre-residency scholars and early career Noyce Scholars. Green also made an impact in the field of math education by being awarded the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant, Pathway to Mathematics in 2011.

Although Green’s NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grants are coming to a close, the main focus in the College of Education and Professional Studies still remains to recruit, graduate and retain highly-qualified science teachers in our local schools systems. Green brought in approximately $3.5 million in NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grants to the University of South Alabama. 

Although Green is now the associate vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of South Alabama, he continues to do work in the field of science education. Green and co-principal investigators Susan Ferguson, Andrea Kent, Madhuri Mulekar and Katie Guffey have also been awarded two three-year Southeast Noyce Conference grants by the National Science Foundation Noyce program to plan and host the conference. One was awarded in 2016 and another in 2019.

“I feel fortunate to collaborate with someone as accomplished as Dr. Green,” Guffey said. “Since starting my career at South, I’ve always viewed him as a mentor. In 2019, he asked me to serve as the co-PI on the National Science Foundation Southeast Noyce Conference grant, and during that time, I made an effort to learn as much as I could from him. My hope is to continue bringing grant funding into the University’s science teacher educator program in the College of Education and Professional Studies.”

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