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Science scholarship program celebrates first graduating class

May 25, 2010

Eight outstanding science education students became the first graduates of ASU’s Science Teachers for Arizona Recruitment and Retention initiative (STARR), funded by the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Robert Noyce Scholarship program. One graduated in December 2009, bringing the total to nine.

The Noyce Scholarship program is a national response to the critical need for K-12 teachers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. At ASU, STARR Noyce Scholarships are awarded to students who commit to teach in "high-need schools" for at least two years following graduation.

The STARR Noyce initiative is the result of collaboration between education and science faculty and administrators across ASU’s campuses. Supported by a $750,000 NSF grant awarded to ASU in 2008, the project funds scholarships, a recruitment course, and a teacher induction program geared for science educators. Julie Luft, a professor of science education at ASU, is the project’s principal investigator. Steve Semken, an associate professor with the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is the project’s co-principal investigator.

“The Noyce program at ASU is a wonderful collaboration between the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and the various science schools and departments” said Luft, who is nationally renowned for her research contributions in science teacher education for both practicing teachers and scholars.

She and Semken secured a $145,000 supplement from NSF in 2009 to pay for additional STARR Noyce program components and services, including beginning teacher science kits, students’ attendance at science conferences, mentor programs and professional development for experienced teachers.

“This project invests in Arizona’s future in science by supporting strong science teachers to teach in underserved communities,” Luft said.

The program began supporting its first seven Noyce Fellows who enrolled in ASU’s Teacher Education for Arizona Math and Science (TEAMS), an intensive 10-month program leading to secondary school certification, middle school endorsement and a master’s degree in secondary education.

TEAMS is the only program at ASU designed specifically for science students and professionals to pursue a career as science teachers. The STARR Noyce Scholarship program supports selected students in this program by providing a substantial fellowship for graduate and undergraduate students, which covers tuition and other education-related expenses.

ASU science education student Brittany Sanner is among the initial group of students selected last summer to receive scholarship support this academic year. 

Sanner completed her student teaching in March at Metro-Tech High School, a Phoenix Union High School District magnet school that prepares students for “real-world working environments and post-secondary education.”

Sanner, who graduated May 12 with a master’s degree in science education, said student teaching introduced her to the “real-world classroom.”

“Students are so scared of chemistry,” said Sanner, who hopes to land a permanent position teaching the subject. “I want to change their minds about that.”

After graduation, Sanner and the other 2009-10 Noyce Fellows will look to fulfill the terms of their scholarships, as they have committed to “pay it forward” by teaching two years in a designated high-need school for each year of funding received from the scholarship.

ASU is stepping up its recruitment of candidates for the STARR Noyce scholarship for the coming year.
“We’re targeting the student who wants to make a difference, has the passion to give back to the community, and who will raise the quality of science education in the community,” said Suzanne Cassano, ASU STARR Noyce Scholarship Specialist.

High-need schools typically are in areas with a high percentage of residents living below the poverty level; have a high number of teachers not teaching in their field; and/or have a high teacher turnover rate.

Nathan Stumpf, also a Noyce Fellow who completed his degree this spring, taught biology as a student teacher at Coronado High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District. The hands-on experience was invaluable, he said.

“You can only learn so much from a book,” he said. “You have to learn first-hand.”

Sienna Silva, a more recent recipient of the Noyce scholarship, will graduate in the fall of 2011. Raised in a family of educators, Silva said she wants her future students to “have the same passion for their chosen subject as I have for biology.”

Noyce Fellows are also able to take advantage of opportunities not available to the average science education student.  Silva was recently chosen for the University of Michigan's INSPIRE program. She will join ASU STARR Noyce Fellow Nathan Glover in participating in the research program in Beijing beginning this month, where they will also visit cultural and historic sites and immerse in Chinese culture.

Noyce Fellows are eligible to apply for a two-year summer research experience in Beijing, China, at one of the two premiere research institutions there: Peking and Tsinghua Universities. The first summer is targeted toward Noyce Fellows with one year remaining in their undergraduate, pre-service education. Fellows will participate in a 10-week research experience that begins with an orientation session that starts in Ann Arbor and ends in Beijing, and is then followed by nine weeks of full-time research in one of the research groups at the program’s host schools. The summer program will also include activities geared toward strategies for introducing both internationalization and research experiences into a Fellow’s future work in the classroom.

The second summer will take place two years from now, after fellows have had a year’s experience as an in-service teacher. Joining the same research group in Beijing, fellows will revisit and resume their international research experience, and work on an instructional development proposal to create teaching materials for use in their classroom. In addition, fellows will interact with teachers and students in Beijing classrooms, forming contacts for future collaborations.

For more information about the INSPIRE program visit For more information about the STARR Noyce Scholarship program at ASU, visit or contact Suzanne Cassano, ASU STARR Noyce Scholarship Specialist, at (480) 965-2561.
Written by Carol Sowers