Saturday, March 26, 2011

Noyce Scholars in South Carolina

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides grants to universities to help them prepare promising math, science, and engineering graduates as teachers for high-need school districts. Noyce Scholars receive financial support and stipends as they earn their master's degree and become math or science teachers.

I'm just home from a visit to the Southeast Regional Noyce Scholars conference held in Greenville, South Carolina, hosted by Clemson University and Newberry College. In attendance were about 150 Noyce Scholars and faculty from 20 colleges and universities in eight states. I enjoyed three days of South Carolina warmth--people and weather-- rubbing shoulders with enthusiastic, dedicated students. Where else can you find people like my new friend Cindy, who makes "yam" into a two-syllable word? I accompanied a brilliant young student teacher named Katie to Beck Academy, where she's preparing as a middle school teacher of both math and English.

I've learned from visiting a couple of Noyce Scholarship programs that many people involved in the program, especially early on when they're first applying, have no idea who Robert Noyce was. Many of them scratch their head trying to decipher NOYCE as an acronoym. National Organization of Young Company Entrepreneurs? New Opportunities for Youth Contemplating Education? Once they do figure it out, many wrongly assume that the Noyce Scholarship Program is funded by the Noyce Foundation. All over the country people come up to me and thank me for the program. I reply graciously but tell them it was conceived by a congressman and has been funded annually since 2002 by a Congress rightly concerned about preparing math and science teachers to inspire tomorrow's innovators.

I gave three talks at the conference. The first was a breakout session on integrating math and literature at the middle school, using Lost in Lexicon as a case study. Since the conference organizers had bought copies of the book for the first 120 attendees, people were intrigued and we had a lively interchange. The second was a talk I've given once before, called "Lighting the Fire in the Next Generation: Grand Challenges in Math and Science." Once again, the audience came up with good ideas. The third, and the most fun for me, was a dinner address called "Go Out and Do Something Wonderful," in which I draw lessons from anecdotes about my father's life and offer eight bits of advice he might have given to new and aspiring teachers.

At the end of my dinner talk (I later learned two Scholars tweeted the eight pieces of advice out to their colleagues), Lienne Medford asked all the Scholars in the room to stand. They rose, a cohort of at least a hundred, ready to march into a life of service. "There, Penny" said Lienne. "Along with everything else he gave the world, there is your father's legacy." I couldn't stop smiling.
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