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Scholarship program to train math, science teachers receives NSF funding

Sharon Vestal
Sharon Vestal

A program that encourages South Dakota State University students majoring math and science to become teachers has received a three-year grant for nearly $800,000 from the National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teaching Scholarship Program to continue its work.

Students majoring in mathematics, biology, chemistry or physics can receive $5,000 per semester during their junior and senior years through Rural Enhancement of Mathematics and Science Teachers, known as REMAST, according to program coordinator Sharon Vestal, an associate professor of mathematics and statistics.

Students must pursue teaching certification for seventh through 12th grades and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA to qualify. After graduation, they must teach one year in a high-need school for every semester that they received the scholarship.

Supporting success

Since the program began in 2007, REMAST has awarded $690,000 in scholarships and produced 44 math and science teachers, Vestal explained. Through the new grant, she will be able to offer 25 to 30 semester-long scholarships. Vestal will begin taking applications next spring for fall 2015 scholarships.

"Our students are very comfortable with their content knowledge," said Vestal, pointing out that SDSU students get a major in their content area in combination with teaching certification.

"We're producing some amazing teachers," Vestal said, and they tend to stay in teaching and in the Midwest. Fourteen alumni have completed their service, and 37 will be teaching this fall. Though the graduates can go to any high-need school in the country, Vestal reported that more than 75 percent stay in South Dakota.

After graduation, REMAST students choose a mentor who works with them during their first two years of teaching. A yearly summer conference allows them to exchange experiences and ideas. REMAST alumni also keep in touch through Facebook."We're building a sense of community," Vestal noted.

Diedra Nissen and Justice Roos
Roosevelt High School teacher Diedra Nissen helps senior Justice Roos with a geometry assignment during summer school.

Making a difference in the classroom

Chelsey Loney, who started her second year teaching seventh and eighth grade science in Flandreau, said, "The REMAST program has done amazing things for me."

The financial assistance allowed her to focus on her studies and the faculty support has helped her move forward in her professional career, the Humboldt, Iowa, native explained. The biology major tried field research, lab research and even zookeeping before she decided to become a teacher.

A survey of REMAST alumni showed that 35 percent would not have pursued teaching without the program, according to Vestal.

"It's the support network that helped get me started," noted Diedra Nissen, who began her third year teaching algebra I and geometry at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls.

Nissen was in general studies her freshman year, but gravitated to mathematics and teaching as a sophomore. The Presho native received the Noyce scholarship for two years.

Nissen credits REMAST support for motivating her to start an online master's degree at SDSU this fall.