University of Texas Permian Basin announced a new partnership with UTeach, a program that recruits and trains STEM majors for the teaching field during a news conference Tuesday in the Engineering Building in Midland.

UTeach Permian Basin will be housed in the College of Education at the university.

The purpose is to prepare highly qualified science and math teachers. UTeach was developed at the University of Texas at Austin and has been made possible thanks to a $1.9 million investment from the Permian Strategic Partnership.

Chief of Staff/Executive Director of Communication Tatum Hubbard said Larry Daniel, dean of the College of Education, and his team along with some of the arts and sciences faculty will roll out the program.

Daniel said one of UTPB’s goals in its strategic plan is to double the number of teachers that the university produces.

“We have not taken that goal lightly by any means,” Daniel said.

He added that a lot of the College of Education faculty has been active and involved in working “with us to produce more teachers.”

UTPB College of Education Dean Larry Daniel speaks during a press conference announcing a partnership with UTeach to help cultivate STEM teachers in the Permian Basin Tuesday afternoon at the UTPB Engineering Building. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

“Our decision to pursue UTeach fits well with the university’s other new initiatives …,” Daniel said.

Two of several initiatives are USPREP, which has been in partnership with Midland and Ector County ISDs and OC2UTPB Teaching in 3.

Daniel said the USPREP program has allowed the creation of one-year paid teacher residencies and the OC2UTPB Teaching in 3 partnership with Odessa College has allowed UTPB to expedite students’ teaching journey from four years to three.

Instead of waiting for students to come to them and express interest in teaching, they are going to go after prospective students.

A key component of the UTeach program is the paid internship. Students who enter it will complete a bachelor’s degree in a science or math field in four years while simultaneously earning a secondary teacher certification, a news release said. The program is streamlined and the curriculum is designed specifically for future science and mathematics teachers.

“… This program is going to be a game changer for UTPB. UTeach will capitalize on incredible talent among our university faculty, strong partnerships with our local ISDs and the support of 49 other UTeach sites nationally that we can learn and grow from being in contact with, and not to mention the incredible students that we’re going to recruit through this program. This is indeed a great day for teacher preparation in our community,” Daniel added.

Jesus Dimas, a 23-year-old senior majoring in chemistry, will be one of the UTeach scholars. Along with his chemistry degree, he will pursue a teaching certification.

“I have been inspired by professors such as Dr. Milka Montes on this and I’m very excited she will be co-directing a wonderful program like UTeach. Since the beginning of my education, many teachers like Dr. Montes have been there to inspire me and guide me to pursue my curiosities, and push me to be the person I am today,” Dimas said.

His teachers are the inspiration for pursuing the profession.

“I knew that I was going to be in science one way or another and I think as the years progressed, especially once I got to high school and college, I just wanted to be like the people that taught me so that pushed me to be like them,” he added.

He added that he and others are hoping that STEM majors who haven’t considered teaching will change their minds and decide to inspire a new generation of STEM majors.

Dimas plans to graduate in December and start UTeach in January of 2022. He’s leaning toward teaching high school.

Kimberly Hughes, UTeach Institute director, said despite the fact that they have 10 established UTeach programs across the state, their partnership with UTPB is their first opportunity to work in this region.

“And so we’re very honored to have the opportunity to make an impact in providing excellent future STEM teachers …,” Hughes said.

President of UTPB Sandra Woodley speaks during a press conference announcing a partnership with UTeach to help cultivate STEM teachers in the Permian Basin Tuesday afternoon at the UTPB Engineering Building. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

UTeach was begun at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. In 2006, they created UTeach Institute to help other universities around the country to improve their production of STEM teachers.

It also is aimed at people in the STEM profession who may want to change careers, along with high school and community college transfer students.

Hughes said a unique feature of the program is that students are able to earn their STEM degree and get certified as a STEM teacher without adding additional time to their degree.

So far, they have four years of retention data nationally from across its partner universities and about 88% of graduates when you change programs do enter the classroom, and 87% are still teaching at the four year mark. So far, we’ve got very good evidence that we are doing our job in terms of interesting students in teaching and then providing them the support they need to stay in teaching,” Hughes said.

She added that they primarily prepare students to teach at the middle and high school levels.

Given how challenging teaching is, Hughes said the program doesn’t stop working with students.

“… We have a very robust alumni network. We support more than 6,000 graduates nationwide, provide professional development, we provide induction support to teachers so we work very hard not just to get teachers in the classroom, but to keep them there and help them to continue on their professional trajectories,” Hughes said.

Daniel said they are going to start recruiting immediately for UTeach and the first cohort will start in the fall of 2022.

David Sparks and Montes are the co-directors of the institute.

“I’m excited because I came from another UTeach campus in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, UT Arlington. And while I was there … I was also on the UTeach STEM Educators Association Board of Directors for the organization in Austin, so I have some background experience with it. I was very excited to learn that they were starting a new program and also excited to be one of the co-directors,” Sparks said.

Montes added that she was also thrilled with the program starting at UTPB.

“We do have great teachers in ECISD and in Midland, but we want to improve the way that we teach the students so that they can have better approaches to teaching science because we know that the kids, they’re bright. They have the capabilities, but there are so many advances in the way we teach STEM that we want to bring that out to … the districts,” Montes said.