In an effort to boost the quality of California's science and math educators, UC Merced and Merced College have united to encourage students to look at careers as K-12 teachers.
The College Access Foundation gave $161,000 to UC Merced in 2008 so it could offer scholarships to Merced College students interested in becoming part of the University of California-wide Science and Math Initiative (SMI) . The first Merced College student has transferred to UC Merced and another one is on the way. Twelve students from Merced College have participated and the funding can support about 50 students.
California's government leaders launched the Science and Math Initiative in 2006 as it became clear the state was not adequately preparing its K-12 students in those disciplines. UC Merced's involvement and partnership with Merced College represents its commitment to community service, teaching and improving the educational quality of the San Joaquin Valley.
Forty UC Merced students who participated in the initiative graduated last year and nearly 70 SMI students are set to graduate this year.
The College Access Foundation scholarships are progressive, increasing every year the student remains in the program. The first year's scholarship is $700. The next year is $900. The following year is $1,500.
Under the UC/CSU/CC intersegmental cross-enrollment agreement, Merced College students can take one class each semester at UC Merced, while paying community college fees, which are $26 per unit. If they take SMI classes, they can qualify for the scholarships.
The Science and Math Initiative exposes students to teaching by having them audit a class with the goal of sparking an interest in public service. There's also a once-a-week seminar to learn about teaching. Both components are meant to give students an understanding of what it's like to lead a classroom.
"It has to be about your passion for public service," SMI Program Director Krista Venecia said. "These students feel the need to give back to the community."
That's what happening with Isabel Garcia.
The long-time Merced resident was at Merced College in a calculus class when Venecia came to talk about the initiative. Garcia, who comes from a family of teachers, had planned on pursuing a science degree to teach at a junior college.
The initiative sparked her interest to consider a career as a high school educator. She transferred to UC Merced to study microbiology and immunology . In one year of the program, she spent three hours every week in a chemistry class at Merced High School, where she graduated years before. She listened and took notes about teaching for most of the year. Near the end, she prepared and presented a lecture on genetics.
"It was pretty fun," she said. "It's a lot more challenging to communicate with the students."
Garcia is set to graduate in spring 2011 and is beginning to look at graduate schools where she could get her teaching credential. In the meantime, she'll spend a few hours a week in a local elementary school, learning what it's like to be on the other side of the classroom.