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Teaching fellows announced in Lansing include 12 headed for WMU

by Cheryl Roland

May 12, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Woodrow Wilson Fellow teaching.
Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellow
KALAMAZOO--A metallurgical engineer with 15 years of industry experience and a minister with a background in anatomy and physiology are among 12 people who will begin their studies at Western Michigan University soon as part of a statewide initiative to prepare and place top-quality new math and science teachers in Michigan's public schools.

A dozen students headed to WMU are among recipients of the highly competitive W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowships announced today in a ceremony in Gov. Rick Snyder's office at the Capitol.

WMU is one of six Michigan universities invited to recruit both recent college graduates and those seeking a different career for three-year fellowships designed to attract promising educators with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics--known as STEM disciplines. Fellows receive $30,000 to pursue a customized master's degree program that prepares them to teach in high-need urban or rural secondary schools in seven local districts across the state.

The inaugural class of WKKF-WW Michigan Teaching Fellows who will study at WMU includes newly minted college graduates from colleges across Michigan as well as veteran science professionals who earned their degrees around the nation and as long ago as 1979.

The Battle Creek, Mich.-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation launched the statewide fellowship program in 2009 with $18 million in support. Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation, joined Gov. Rick Snyder and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation President Arthur Levine in announcing the inaugural class of fellows. The fellows were selected from a highly competitive pool of 1,500 applicants hailing from a variety of experiences and former careers in math- and science-related fields.

Loretta Vaara of Holland, Mich., says she's a perfect example of the kind of career change the fellowships make possible. She has a mathematics degree from WMU, an MBA from Wayne State University and a track record as an engineer and project manager in the automotive industry. She was also ready to return to the work force after time off to focus on her family.

"Teaching was always in the back of my mind, even in college," Vaara says. "But I knew what a teacher did and I wanted to try something different. I loved my career, and in hindsight, I know it will make me a better teacher. I was a math major in college and ended up in engineering and project management--areas I didn't even consider in high school. I'll be able to tell students about the career paths that will open up for them with a technical background."

Photo of Gov. Rick Snyder and WMU teaching fellow Travis Smith.
Gov. Rick Snyder and WMU teaching fellow Travis Smith
At WMU, the program will be a strong field-based effort focused on preparing teachers for work in urban settings. The University has partnered with two large school districts--Benton Harbor Area Schools and Kalamazoo Public Schools--to ensure fellows have a wealth of experience in the classroom.

The fellowship program at WMU will lead to certification in mathematics, chemistry and physics. Certification will be earned during the first year, and the program will ultimately lead to a master's degree.

Fellows, who will begin their studies in the coming weeks, make a three-year commitment to teach in one of Michigan's high-need districts as part of the fellowship program. The first cohort of fellows will seek teaching positions for fall 2012 employment. Through the fellowship program and during their first three years of teaching, they will receive intensive support and mentoring to encourage them to continue their professional development and work with Michigan youth.

The WKKF-WW Michigan Teaching Fellows who will study at WMU are:

The first round of fellowship recipients also included a WMU alumnus who will go to the University of Michigan for his fellowship work. Richard Ostrowski of Byron, Mich., is a 2009 WMU graduate who majored in anthropology and environmental studies.

In addition to WMU and the U of M, other Michigan universities hosting WWKF-WW Michigan Teaching Fellows are Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The universities are partnering with seven public school districts.

The inaugural 2011 fellowship competition generated some 48,000 inquiries and more than 1,500 applications. The selection process included initial screening, a full-day of interviews driven by a team of veteran STEM researchers and an admissions review process by the partner universities.