Creating Pathways into Teaching through Engineering Programs

Kathy Koenig, Associate Professor, Joint Appt Physics & STEM Education, University of Cincinnati


Blake Baldwin, an engineering major, serving as a Learning Assistant in a physics class

Recruiting students into high school physics teaching is a challenge. As a result of our efforts under PhysTEC, we reflected on the pathways that students might take through our physics licensure program. Although earning a BA or BS in physics might seem to be the most logical pathway, the reality is that our physics department graduates a dozen or less majors per year, which is a small pool from which to recruit future physics teachers. On the other hand, our college of engineering graduates well over 600 majors each year. These students are strong in math and science, and although they have high interest in these subjects, some learn through the program’s coursework and mandatory co-operative (co-op) work experiences that a future career in engineering is not what they wish to do upon graduation. It is these students who are targeted as future high school teachers through University of Cincinnati’s ACCENDTM (Accelerated Engineering Degree) program.

ACCENDTM, a 5-year program through the College of Engineering and Applied Science, allows students to earn an undergraduate degree in engineering along with a master’s degree while still enjoying the benefits of the university’s top ranked cooperative education program. Under the original ACCENDTM program, master’s degree options included engineering, science, and business.  In 2013, a Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction with a high school teaching license was added to the list of possibilities, which enabled us to expand our recruitment efforts.

In order to complete the curriculum in the prescribed 5-year timeframe, many of the students who consider the ACCEND tracks already have a semester or more of credits completed in high school through either AP or dual enrollment. Students without these incoming credits may catch up by taking additional courses during their co-op experience. This is becoming easier as more and more of our courses are being offered online. To ensure that the students have enough time to complete the various degree and licensure requirements, it is essential that they are recruited into the program after their freshmen or sophomore year. Much of our recruitment efforts occur through our learning assistant program, academic advisors, and scheduled program information sessions.

The majority of the coursework for the engineering degree and teaching license is completed in the first four years of the program with only a few graduate courses completed prior to the fifth and final year. One of the essential elements of the program that adds to its success is flexibility. Through careful planning, students may take as many as six of the thirteen classes required for high school licensure prior to entering the teaching cohort during their fourth year. Some of these are offered as online courses, which students may take during co-op. Four of these courses also count as required Breadth of Knowledge (general education) courses, which further increases the program’s accessibility. In addition, under ACCENDTM, students complete only four of the five semesters of mandatory co-op, providing one additional semester for necessary academic coursework. For those seeking high school licensure, the final co-op experience is replaced by student teaching. Currently, funding through a Math and Science Partnership (MSP) grant pays for a student’s tuition during the semester of student teaching, and Noyce funding is also available.

Due to the complexity of the program, student advising is critical, and students often have multiple advisors including someone from the College of Engineering as well as someone from the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services. Students must meet all requirements of the undergraduate program to earn their undergraduate degree and fulfill all requirements of the graduate and licensure program to earn their graduate degree with teaching license. Additionally, the same course cannot count towards both an undergraduate and graduate requirement, and ACCEND students must also maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA to stay in the program.

While an undergraduate, students in the ACCEND program are permitted to take as many graduate courses as appropriate for credit toward the Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction. Once students have completed at least 90% of the undergraduate credit requirements, they complete a “Transition to Graduate Status” form rather than complete and submit a full graduate school application, which further simplifies the process.

This program has many benefits for recruiting more high school physics teachers. One of the major advantages is that the program was designed to include only those courses found within existing programs, so that new courses did not need to be created and staffed. It also attracts some of our brightest and most energetic students into teaching, and it does so after the students have had some teaching experience in college, including serving as a learning assistant. And finally, because these students are earning an engineering degree along with their teaching license, they are highly marketable when they enter the workplace.

Kathy Koenig received her PhD in Physics Education in 2004 after serving as a high school physics teacher for 6 years. She is currently an Associate Professor of STEM Education with a joint appointment in Physics. Her research interests include developing curriculum to improve student acquisition of scientific reasoning abilities as well as improving student success and retention in introductory STEM courses.

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.