Summer. Some people head to the beach. Others to the mountains. But if you’re an Arizona educator participating in the Teachers in Industry program, you literally practice what you preach to your students during the school year.
The summer program provides continuing education to Arizona teachers serving the hot topic areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through immersion in private-sector companies. Instructors in these fields are thought to be in the class only three to five years before they leave.
Yet in the six years that the Teachers in Industry program has existed, only two participating Arizona teachers have left their profession. That translates into an impressive retention rate of 96 percent, said Martha Ostheimer, director of business development at The University of Arizona’s College of Education.
The University of Arizona has operated the program since 2009 in partnership with Tucson Values Teachers, as well as funding partners Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation and the Thomas R. Brown Educational Foundation.
Companies that take part in hiring these teachers for the summer have represented aerospace and defense, bioscience, construction, energy, engineering, health, manufacturing and mining. Companies considering whether to get involved are encouraged to “think out of the box on what a teacher can do in seven to nine weeks,” Ostheimer said.
Consider this experience of one teacher who participated in the program:
“Evaluated mathematical equations that modeled treatment of tuberculosis. Interpreted and constructed charts and graphs. Searched for and summarized literature on cardiac side effects of a variety of medications. Compiled inventory of disease progression and drug metabolism mathematical models for tuberculosis.”
“Developed recommendations for IT security awareness training. Interviewed and developed summary and recommendations from company users including internal IT staff of IT Security services."
These are just two examples from a long list of projects in which Arizona teachers have participated.
Teachers participating in the program gain hands-on industry experience as well as in-depth and practical knowledge of the workplace. When the teachers return to the classroom in the fall, they carry the practical experiences they have learned. They can help prepare students for “careers that are well-paid careers,” Ostheimer says. Plus, because the teachers in the program function in a group each summer, they can trade experiences and become leaders in their own schools.
For example, they may return and start a robotics club.
“They are doing things that engage them more,” she says.
More than 40 businesses have provided industry experiences to more than 100 Arizona teachers since the program was launched. These companies pay teacher industry-level wages ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 during the summer. The reward for the companies is longer term: each teacher can impact 150 students, who no doubt learn more about what could be their future employers.
“In turn, the employers learn about the educator’s pathway,” Ostheimer says.
While some companies take on one teacher each, others hire more, she says. Raytheon Missile Systems gets 10 instructors every summer and Tucson Electric Power hires seven, with some working as far away as Springerville. SRP will place teachers in the communities where they operate, providing a positive impact on rural communities.
The goal is that enough companies will come forward to participate so there are a minimum 50 teachers in the summer 2016 group. That includes a planned expansion of the program into Yuma, Ostheimer says. In the Phoenix area, so far there are commitments from Celgene, SRP, APS, Banner Health, Medtronic and SUMCO.
Companies make commitments in the fall, and teacher resumes are forwarded to the companies starting in mid-February. By early March, interviews of candidates are expected to be underway. Work assignments start after the teacher has wrapped up the regular school year and are complete before classes start in the fall.
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