$40,000 Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars program created to attract math, science teachers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission) recently launched the online application for its newest and most-prestigious state scholarship, which is aimed at addressing critical teacher shortages in math, science, elementary education and special education. The Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program will provide up to $10,000 per year in financial aid to 25 recent high school graduates to encourage them to become outstanding West Virginia public school teachers.
This is the state’s largest-dollar financial aid award and most-prestigious scholarship for undergraduate students, according to Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, interim chancellor of the Commission. She said the Underwood-Smith program will be another tool to attract high-quality educators to communities across the state.
“This is an important investment in our public education system because quality teachers will produce students who are better prepared to find success in college and the workforce. It’s a win for students, it’s a win for our schools, it’s a win for our colleges and it’s a win for West Virginia,” Tucker said.
Data provided by the West Virginia Department of Education show that county boards of education still struggle to fill open positions with appropriately certified teachers last school year – a problem that is expected to grow. Math, science and special education teachers, especially, are needed in schools across the state, said Dr. Steven Paine, State Superintendent of Schools, who also serves as an ex-officio member of the Policy Commission.
“I applaud the efforts of the West Virginia Legislature to expand the Underwood-Smith program,” Paine said. “Recruiting teachers to the profession must be a top priority in order to ensure all West Virginia classrooms are filled with highly-qualified educators.”
Twenty-five recipients will be selected each year from a national applicant pool. Tucker said she hopes expanding the availability of a state financial aid program to out-of-state students will help fill vacancies in critical needs areas and expand the pool of highly qualified teachers. “Forty-thousand dollars in scholarship aid, combined with low non-resident tuition rates at our public colleges and universities, means that pursuing a teaching degree at a West Virginia college is a really affordable opportunity for students from other states, and they can be a part of this truly unique, service-based program.”
The Teaching Scholars Program is unique in that it has not just a service element, but a teaching “apprenticeship” element, as well. Each Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholar will be paired with a professional teacher mentor, who will serve as an active member of the student’s support team from their first day of college until they graduate and then move into their careers. As a condition of the award, scholarship recipients will be required to teach in West Virginia for five years after graduation. Mentoring support will be provided during this time, as well.
“Higher education graduation data shows that students who have a strong support system are far more likely to be successful in college,” Tucker said. “We want all 25 recipients to earn a degree in four or fewer years and to learn firsthand from an accomplished professional what it takes to become not just a good teacher, but a great teacher. Our mentors will help us achieve that goal.”
An additional cohort of 25 students will be added each year, meaning 100 Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars will be actively enrolled in West Virginia public and private, non-profit college teacher education programs each year after the aid program is in operation for four years. Each of those graduates also will have committed to teaching in the state for five years, in exchange for the scholarship benefits.
The application is now available on the Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars website, www.teachinwv.com, and takes about five minutes to complete. Applicants who meet the minimum scholarship requirements will be invited to submit a full application, which will include a resume and essay. Finalists from this pool will be asked to submit a short video demonstrating their passion for pursuing a career as a West Virginia teacher.
For more information or to apply, students and parents may visit the Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars website at www.teachinwv.com.