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Scholarship program puts highly-trained science, math teachers in region's classrooms

Makenzie Bell, a student teacher from the University of Scranton, works with her students at Riverside Junior-Senior High School.
Sarah Hofius Hall
Makenzie Bell, left, a student teacher from the University of Scranton, works with her students at Riverside Junior-Senior High School.

Students in a biology class at Riverside Junior-Senior High School looked through microscopes, studying cell division.

Makenzie Bell, a University of Scranton student teacher and native of Lenoxville, helped the students identify the steps of mitosis.

Bell is one of five National Science Foundation Noyce Scholars at the university who teach at area high schools this semester.

She had other plans when she started college.

“At first I went to the university to be a dentist, and then the scholarship was kind of like my calling,” she said. “So I took the opportunity, and it's going really well so far.”

The program addresses the critical need for recruiting and retaining elementary and secondary math and science teachers in high-need school districts in Pennsylvania and other parts of the United States.

As the national teacher shortage impacts school districts in the region, math and science teachers are especially hard to find. Experts in those fields can make more money in the private sector, so groups across the country are trying to boost the education profession and show prospective educators the impact they can make in a classroom.

Makenzie Bell discusses classwork with her students at Riverside.
Sarah Hofius Hall
Makenzie Bell discusses classwork with her students at Riverside.

The scholars earned bachelor’s degrees in science or math from the university, and receive full-tuition scholarships and support while pursuing master’s degrees in secondary education in Scranton. Students must teach in a high-need school district anywhere in the United States for two years for each year of their participation as a Noyce Scholar.

Gerard Dumancas, associate professor of chemistry, received the more than $1 million award from the National Science Foundation. He says the impact will be felt by future generations.

“The students who will be trained, will ultimately be future teachers. And these future teachers have mastered their field and they will be able to relay the information to students in the high schools,” he said.

Scholar and Dickson City resident Jacob Vituszynski is a math student teacher at Valley View High School. He’s eager to share his passion for STEM fields with his students.

“I would say the best part about teaching is when you see students work through something tough, but then they finally get that aha moment,” he said. “I think that's definitely a very fulfilling feeling because you get to guide them as they go on a path towards trying to solve something very challenging.”

Back in Bell’s classroom at Riverside, she continued her lesson on cell mitosis before the bell rang.

“The STEM program is really needed in the state of Pennsylvania and honestly, everywhere across the country,” she said. “I'm not really sure where I'm headed, but wherever I'm headed, I know it'll be a good fit for me.”

For more information on the program, visit the university's website.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org