Focusing on STEM

USF’s latest partnership with the Helios Education Foundation aims to put 80 subject-specific teachers in Hillsborough middle schools within four years.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 17, 2013) — Aiming to boost U.S. global competiveness through a focus on the mathematics and science performance of American schoolchildren, the Helios Education Foundation and University of South Florida have agreed to build a teacher preparation pipeline in partnership with the Hillsborough County Public Schools meant to deliver 80 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers to Hillsborough County public middle schools by 2017.


Led by the USF College of Education, the program will be joined by the USF Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences.


The Helios STEM Middle School Residency Program will begin this summer, funded by a $3.16 million gift from Helios to USF’s College of Education, the foundation’s largest single investment in USF and public education in Florida. The gift is the latest to the college as part of the USF System’s $600 million USF: Unstoppable Campaign.  


While there have been numerous calls to enhance STEM education in the U.S. — starting with the Carnegie Corporation’s landmark 1989 report “Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century” and continuing through the Obama administration’s 2009 announcement of its Educate to Innovate campaign — key findings by the National Assessment of Education Progress and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) still show U.S. students under-performing their peers from many less-developed nations. Results from PISA, in particular, indicate that the performance of U.S. 15-year-old students on tests of mathematical and scientific literacy consistently dropped in relation to student performance in other nations between 2000 and 2010.

Among the biggest factors responsible for the decline, say experts, is the reality that up to 93 percent of middle grades students in the U.S. are taught mathematics or physical science by teachers without a degree or certificate in the appropriate field — a real problem given other studies intimating that subject-specific content and pedagogical knowledge are essential if teachers are to teach effectively.

“In order to prepare today’s students for the 21st century’s globalized economy, we must first ensure that our teachers are prepared by providing them with the training and professional development they need,” said Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.  “This innovative new residency-based program at USF not only will help enhance teacher effectiveness in the STEM areas, but also it will provide the training necessary to ensure they are prepared to teach more rigorous content standards.”

Already, USF and the Helios Foundation have a rich history of collaboration including creation in 2005 of the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), an organization that empowers communities to work constructively alongside schools and build partnerships with universities, colleges, community organizations, and businesses to improve college preparation, access, and completion for all students.

·         Video: Learn more about the Helios Education Foundation and FCAN

A year later, Helios and USF also established the Tampa Bay Educational Partnership to encourage and facilitate mutual research, preparation, and professional development opportunities between USF and HCPS, the eighth-largest school district in the nation serving more than 194,000 students.

And in 2011, Helios and USF launched the Accelerated STEM Academic Pipeline (ASAP) teacher development program. In addition to the more than $840,000 in funding provided by Helios for that project, the Foundation has invested millions of dollars toward improving STEM education across Arizona and Florida.

“The University of South Florida is immensely grateful to our friends and partners at the Helios Foundation for their continued confidence in our education programs, and for yet another opportunity to contribute to the quality of instruction in local schools,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. “By helping to develop highly qualified and effective math and science teachers, USF is continuing to play a leading role in preparing young learners for greater educational attainment while strengthening the economic future of our state and region.”

During summer 2013, instructors will engage in planning activities to ensure that all courses in the program focus on middle level education, the learning needs of young adolescents, and/or STEM teachers. The first of two planned cohorts of 40 prospective mathematics and science teachers each will begin classes during fall 2013 and complete two semester-long practicums by the end of spring semester 2014.

The following August, as the second cohort of 40 teachers begins classes, participants in the first group will engage in yearlong residencies co-teaching alongside appropriately credentialed teachers in high-needs schools.

By the time both cohorts finish the program, HCPS officials estimate 20,000 middle school students will have benefitted from classrooms with their additional support.

In addition, it is expected that completion of the teacher education program will enhance the quality, effectiveness, and, most important, retention of program graduates, resulting in long-lasting impact for as many as 100,000 students over a 10-year period.

The USF: Unstoppable Campaign is a comprehensive fundraising effort by the University of South Florida System to celebrate the energy, vision, and future of one of the country’s most exciting and engaged universities. USF’s people and programs, ideas, research, and solutions comprise an ambitious plan to enhance healthcare, science, technology, education, business, the arts, and global partnerships.

About Helios Education Foundation

Helios Education Foundation is focused on creating opportunities for individuals to succeed in postsecondary education by advancing the academic preparedness of all students and fostering a high-expectations, college-going culture in Arizona and Florida. The Foundation focuses its investments across the education continuum in three key impact areas: Early Childhood Education, the Transition Years and Postsecondary Success. As an engaged foundation, embedded in communities across both states, the Foundation is contributing its leadership, expertise and financial resources to better prepare students for college and career and to compete successfully in a globally-competitive economy. Since 2006, Helios has invested over $125 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Arizona and Florida.


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.