ATLANTA – The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation announced today that Mercer University is one of five institutions selected to participate in the Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellowship, supported by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.
The announcement that Mercer – along with Columbus State University, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Piedmont College – will participate in the competitive program was made at the State Capitol by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Georgia is the fifth state overall – and the first in the South – to join this growing national initiative that seeks to both increase the supply of outstanding teachers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and change how they are prepared to teach.
"The opportunity to partner with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to establish a fellowship program at Mercer will serve to enhance our already established commitment to inspiring students to use their gifts and talents in service to others," said William D. Underwood, president of Mercer University. "Mercer recognizes the critical need for STEM teachers in central and southern Georgia, and through collaborative efforts with the surrounding school districts, Mercer is positioned to make a clear difference in the state of Georgia."
"STEM education plays a critical role in our state's competitiveness and future economic prosperity," Gov. Deal said. "The most important thing we can do for our students in this field is ensure they have effective teachers. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships will encourage more partnerships between institutes of higher education and our K-12 schools to improve educational opportunities for students in this critical area."
Each of the five institutions is in the process of developing a master's-level teacher preparation program that will offer Fellows a rigorous yearlong experience in local school classrooms, similar to a medical school residency. Fellows receive $30,000 stipends in exchange for a commitment to teach in a high-need urban or rural school in Georgia for three years with ongoing mentoring. Nearly two-dozen school districts are currently being considered as partner sites.
"Study after study shows that teachers are the single most important in-school factor in improving student achievement," said Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "Yet urban and rural schools consistently struggle to attract and retain strong math and science teachers – nationally, 30 to 40 percent of all teachers leave the profession during their first three years in the classroom, and more in high-need districts. So there's a genuine need for these new teachers, and for innovative preparation that will help keep them in the classroom."
The Woodrow Wilson Foundation will create and administer the fellowship program, with in-state coordination by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and support from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. Current project funding is $9.36 million.
"An investment in math, science, and technology education is an investment in Georgia's future," said P. Russell Hardin, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. "We are proud to be able to help bring this program to Georgia and to strengthen the pipeline of excellent teachers for the Georgia students who need them the most."
"This partnership will train the next generation of STEM educators and is a great opportunity to address a crucial need in the state of Georgia," said Dr. Scott Davis, provost at Mercer. "We are all dedicated to ensure this initiative has a sustainable and lasting impact to enhance the intellectual capital of STEM education in our region."
The participating universities will receive $400,000 matching grants to develop their teacher preparation programs based on standards set by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Recruitment of Fellows begins in spring 2014, and the first class of Fellows will begin the program in fall 2015. For each of the program's three years, the participating Georgia colleges and universities will be able to enroll 12 Fellows, totaling 180 Fellows over that span. Given the state's shortage of secondary-level STEM teachers, the Foundation is looking for additional partners and funders to expand the program.
"The faculty of the Tift College of Education at Mercer University are honored to become a partner university of the Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellowship," said Dr. Paige L. Tompkins, interim dean of the College. "We look forward to extensive collaboration with our school district partners and our Mercer colleagues in engineering, math and science to provide rigorous, but also nurturing, preparation of STEM teachers for rural Georgia. The Fellowship provides us the very real possibility to transform the lives of the Fellows as they begin careers in teaching, as well as the lives of hundreds of rural Georgia students."
"This is a wonderful opportunity to further develop collaboration among the Tift College of Education, community partners and the P-12 systems in Middle Georgia," said Dr. Melissa M. Cruz, project director for the Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellowship at Mercer. "I'm looking forward to working with the Fellows and developing a robust STEM teacher preparation program."
About the Woodrow Wilson Foundation
Founded in 1945, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (www.woodrow.org) prepares the nation's best minds to meet its most important challenges, working through education. The Foundation supports its Fellows as the next generation of leaders shaping American society.
About the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
The coordinating partner for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Georgia Teaching Fellowship is the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. Founded in 1992 by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Economic Developers Association, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education consists of business, education, community and government leaders who share a vision of education excellence. Working to be Georgia's foremost change agent in education, the independent non-profit, non-partisan organization takes lead roles in efforts to shape policy and reform education.
About the Tift College of Education
Mercer University's Tift College of Education – with campuses in Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and the University's four Regional Academic Centers– prepares more professional educators than any other private institution in Georgia. The College offers baccalaureate and graduate degrees, and is guided by the conceptual framework of the "Transforming Practitioner," which supports those who aspire to grow professionally throughout their careers, while also seeking to transform the lives of students.