Virginia State University Receives $1 Million to Train Future Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Teachers

UTeach will position VSU to help fill the area shortage of minority STEM teachers.

Virginia State University has been selected by Governor Ralph Northam for a new initiative that will position the University to become a major pipeline for filling the STEM teacher shortage in Virginia.  HBCUTeach is a national initiative developed as an innovative way to recruit undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and prepare them to become teachers. VSU is among the first HBCUs to implement the HBCUTeach program. Through the program, VSU students will be able to receive their secondary teaching certifications while also completing a STEM major, without additional cost or increasing the number of semesters they spend in college.

Virginia is the first state in the country to allot public funds for this initiative. Governor Northam has allotted $500 thousand for the Virginia State University UTeach (VSUTeach) program.  Those funds will be matched by a gift from Dr. Ernst and Dr. Sara Lane Volgenau to total the $1 Million initiative at Virginia State University. Volgenau is the founder of Fairfax-based SRA International. He and Sara Lane Volgenau are major contributors to education in the United States. The HBCUTeach initiative is based on the renowned UTeach program founded at the University of Texas at Austin.

“UTeach will help address our existing teacher shortage and create a pool of diverse, talented STEM educators who are equipped to ensure Virginia students have the knowledge, skills and mindsets necessary to thrive in the ever-changing, technologically-advanced, global society,” Northam said.

HBCUs play a critical role in meeting the goals of diversifying qualified STEM teachers. According to the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, this partnership with HBCUs is critical as HBCUs comprise just three percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, but produce 24% of African American students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields and provide one-fourth of the bachelor’s degrees in education awarded to African Americans.

“In the next five years, 150 thousand new jobs will come available in the STEM fields. We want those jobs to be employed by people of all races, backgrounds and genders. That means we will have to do something different in the areas of math and science education,” says Dr. Willis Walter, Dean of the VSU College of Education. “Currently K-12 classrooms are 52 % students of color, but only 18% of teachers in those classrooms are of color. VSUTeach will help to inspire students to pursue math and science teaching careers.”   

The National Math and Science Initiative launched the HBCUTeach initiative in 2020 in collaboration with the UTeach Institute and with support from Fund II. HBCUTeach is customized to meet the unique needs of this population of future STEM teachers. NMSI and the UTeach Institute will work with VSU to implement the program.

The UTeach program is currently in use at 45 of the nation’s colleges and universities. Ten other HBCUs, including Norfolk State University, are part of the NMSI-led initiative to launch the program at historically black institutions.

“We are extremely excited about the efforts that Governor Northam and Secretary Qarni have initiated to strengthen teacher quality and equity in the Commonwealth and that they support the quality and significance of Virginia State University in accomplishing this goal,” says Eldon Burton, VSU Director of Government Relations.  “A part of our VSU strategic goals is to strategically establish academic programs that effectively prepare leaders and scholars to meet the demands of a global society and workforce. This one million dollar investment in the VSUTeach initiative will help VSU to accomplish those goals.”