Turning LSUA STEM Majors into STEM Teachers in Central Louisiana High Schools

April 05, 2021

Talent Development in Action

In a historic win for LSU of Alexandria (LSUA) and career prospects in central Louisiana, a collaborative faculty team has received $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation to help LSUA students become highly effective biology, chemistry, and math teachers in high-need high schools after they graduate.

The university has partnered with seven nearby school districts: Allen, Avoyelles, Concordia, Evangeline, Grant, LaSalle, and Rapides, as well as Central Louisiana Technical Community College, where qualified and effective STEM teachers are in high demand. While most (51%) Louisiana students express a sincere interest in STEM majors and careers, only 10% meet the knowledge requirements in math and science. One in every five classrooms in the state is led by a teacher who is either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise.

“Since STEM education in middle and high school is the key driver of students’ ability to major in science in college and choose STEM careers, we couldn’t look at these numbers and not see a big problem,” said LSUA chemistry professor and project lead Gerard Dumancas. “So, we had to ask ourselves, how can LSUA help?”

LSUA science graduate Helena Ellis is already teaching biology, chemistry, and math at Marksville High School in Avoyelles Parish. Once she was told multiple times how she shouldn’t pick one of the lowest paid professions in one of the lowest per-capita income parishes in Louisiana, her mind was made up. She’d be going to Marksville, where she felt she could have the most impact.

“Challenge accepted.”

Helena Ellis

Helena Ellis

– LSU

“It’s extremely difficult to find middle and high school STEM teachers with a certification. I compare my school to other schools in the district, and we’re all in the same boat. STEM graduates can easily go and make double what a teacher makes, and that is tough to compete with. But I love the idea of LSUA giving STEM graduates the experience of teaching in high-need schools such as ours through their new program. Because once they come to us, they might realize they like it, and stay.”

- Liza Jacobs, principal and ’91 graduate of Marksville High School in Avoyelles Parish