Scholarships announced for future teachers

As part of its continuing efforts to help solve the teacher shortage, University of Texas of the Permian Basin awarded scholarships from the Education Foundation and announced the PDC Energy Education Scholarship.

The event was held in the lobby of the J. Conrad Dunagan Library at UTPB Friday.

UTPB Communications Manager Tatum Guinn said there are 10 scholarship recipients and four were in attendance. The recipients spotlighted were Lizeth Cortinas, Ana Guerra Licon, Kennedy Jones and Ambriah Portillo.

They are incoming UTPB students and receiving Education Foundation scholarships, Guinn said.

The Education Foundation Scholarship provides select students with full tuition, fees, books and a meal plan if they maintain certain criteria, such as being a full-time student, maintaining a 3.0 GPA and logging 80 volunteer hours in a classroom.

They also must commit to teaching for two years at an Ector County ISD school.

Also announced was the PDC Energy Education Scholarship, which totals $30,000. It can be used for three $10,000 scholarships or six $5,000 scholarships. It will cover tuition, fees and books with the promise that they will work at least two years in a local school district — Ector, Midland, Pecos, Monahans, Greenwood, or other school districts, Guinn said.

Current students going into their senior year will be able to apply for the PDC scholarship, Guinn said.

The PDC scholarship also provides tuition, fees, books and a meal plan.

Dave Kulmann, PDC Energy senior manager of community relations, said PDC is an oil and gas company with almost 50 employees and families living in the greater Odessa-Midland area.

“A big part of my job is to listen to our employees and hear what their concerns are in this area. Our employees spoke and they spoke loudly. The overwhelming No. 1 concern employees saw and personally struggled with with their own families was the shortage of teachers in this community,” Kulmann said.

“We all know how important education is to our kids and to our communities. Outside of a child’s parents, their teachers are the most important people to a child succeeding in school and getting them a better chance to succeed in life,” Kulmann said.

UTPB Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, department chair and Faculty Senate president Jessica Garrett said she thought the scholarship awards were amazing.

“I think what we’re seeing is the community beginning to recognize the need and really rallying behind this to help make a positive impact on our schools because we realize that by making a positive impact on our schools, we make a positive impact in our community,” Garrett said.

“I think we’re really starting to see that connection. We want better schools for our kids. We want more people to move here, all of these kinds of things,” she added.

Garrett said she thinks more companies are going to step up.

 “I feel like there’s a shift, that we’re right on the cusp of something really great,” she added.

Education Foundation President Jeff Woltz said anytime additional partners can be added to help fill the need for teachers in the Permian Basin, it’s great.

The Education Foundation focuses on ECISD.

“We give $100,000 in scholarship money each year that’s split evenly between OC (Odessa College) and UTPB and then they match that two to one, so that $100,000 turns into $300,000, which is great,” Woltz said.

“We’ve had this scholarship for more than 10, 15 years. However, two years ago we made a conscious effort to change it. It all came about because of ECISD’s lack of teachers. When they started showing up having 300 short; 250 short,” Woltz said.

With those numbers, Woltz said the foundation recognized that the teacher shortage was a critical problem.

“We thought rather than spreading our scholarship money out to other degrees besides that, we felt like we needed to focus on education. Furthermore, we wanted to use that to have the teachers agree to come back and work for ECISD once they have completed their degree and gotten their teaching certificate,” Woltz said.

The main fundraiser for the scholarships is the annual concert, which is coming up Sept. 17 featuring George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

All the recipients were thrilled to be awarded the scholarship.

“I’m really excited to move forward with my life and this teaching career,” said Cortinas, an Odessa High School graduate. “I think it’s a privilege to be able to get this scholarship and I’m just really excited and thankful for the teachers I’ve had in the past because Ms. (Cheryl) Cunningham, she actually was the one that really helped me make this choice. She told me about the scholarship and I’m here today.”

Licon said it’s an amazing opportunity to receive something that will help her through college. The Permian High School graduate said she knew she wanted to be a teacher the first time she put hours in inside a classroom.

Jones, who graduated from OHS and has a 4-month-old son, said she’s wanted to be a teacher since fifth grade when her teacher told her how good she was with her peers in helping them learn.

Associate Professor with the College of Education Lindsey Balderaz said two of the four scholarship recipients attended the Future Falcon Leaders in Teacher Education program that went on this week.

“With ECISD, the Education Foundation is switching their focus to be specifically on teacher preparation and this PDC Energy group putting this emphasis on preparing future teachers, I think a lot of other companies, oil and gas companies, are going to begin following suit putting their emphasis on how to support our teacher prep and fill those vacant positions and really change the education works in our communities in West Texas,” Balderaz said. 

The collaboration with PDC Energy and the Education Foundation is part of UTPB President Sandra Woodley’s 10-year plan to double the number of kindergarten through 12th grade teachers.