VolsTeach for Appalachia

by Rebekah Goode
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Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mtns Nat Park, TN

Written by Addie Morton

UT and Pellissippi State Community College have come together to help bring STEM teachers to classrooms in Appalachia.

VolsTeach for Appalachia aims to grow and diversify the STEM teacher workforce by supporting community college students who wish to become STEM teachers. Students are selected from a group of high-potential students called Noyce Appalachian Scholars. These students major in science, technology, engineering, or math, minor in education, and earn a license in secondary education through UT.

Students participate in out-of-classroom field experiences, complete summer internships, and receive scholarship support for two years. Upon graduation, VolsTeach students commit their first four years to teaching in high-need school districts in East Tennessee.

UT and Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) have partnered with five local school districts that are considered high need, meaning a majority of their students come from low-income families. Through VolsTeach, the two schools aim to help meet the national need for new STEM teachers who can serve in diverse rural schools.

“Without this internship opportunity, I would not know that I have a love for being around children in an academic and STEM-based environment,” said Benjamin Bridges, a sophomore biochemistry major at PSCC.

“I was always extremely excited to wake up and begin my day as I felt like I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who cared about each other on a different, more unique level than what I was accustomed to,” he said.

Bridges was asked to return as a VolsTeach STEM event coordinator following the conclusion of his internship.

Taylor Harricharan, a junior mechanical engineering major at PSCC, said she learned about different teaching styles and how to reach every type of student. “It’s so important for people to share their knowledge with one another, and the VolsTeach program inspired me to do that,” Harricharan said.

“My hope is that more young adults will consider education. It is an honorable path with very enriching work,” she said. “If the opportunity were to come again, I would take it in a heartbeat.”

Lynn Hodge, co-director of VolsTeach and associate professor of mathematics education, says the program has already made an impact. “We worked with a group of middle school students as part of a hands-on STEM camp and with children and their families at the Muse. The interns were critical to this work, and they really developed ownership and a sense of community during the summer.”

The program finished its first year with 15 STEM teaching interns. This spring, the program will select 15 more scholars.

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