Cover Stories: Transforming Urban STEM with the Wipro Fellowship

May 18, 2015

Wipro fellows explore innovative STEM teaching ideas they can take back to their Chicago schools.

Michigan State University is preparing 125 urban educators to transform not only their teaching but the quality of math and science learning across their entire school system.

They are becoming leaders among colleagues in Chicago Public Schools—the nation’s third largest district—through a fellowship program that would not be possible without pairing MSU education professors with private financial support.

The program is funded by a $2.8 million grant from global technology company Wipro, Ltd., which shares a commitment to improving education in disadvantaged communities.

“Urban districts face steep challenges, and these fellows will go on to lead and support their peers,” said Sonya Gunnings-Moton, assistant dean in the College of Education and co-director of the project. “Through our long-standing partnership with Chicago Public Schools, these fellows will become change agents.”

Fifty teachers are beginning the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship Program this summer with classes in Chicago. Like the first cohort of 25 teachers, they will then take online courses during the school year through the university’s award-winning Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET).

Thanks to the grant, fellows receive materials such as software and textbooks, full tuition coverage and a stipend. Upon completion, they will earn a Graduate Certificate in STEM Learning and Leadership from MSU, and gain innovative, effective teaching techniques that can be shared through professional learning communities in their schools.

“I can see already the ideas that are turning in my head of ways that I can implement little daily things into the classroom to make those connections meaningful to my kids,” said first cohort member Ashley Keine, a 2009 MSU graduate (Elementary Education) who teaches at Chicago’s Shoesmith Elementary School. “I’m just really blessed to be a part of this experience.”

As someone new to focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Keine is especially grateful the fellowship will include three years of ongoing support from faculty members and fellow participants. The group includes pre-K-12 teachers.

“The goal at each and every level is to develop their professional skillset—to become the best professional, creative, engaging teachers they can be,” said Punya Mishra, co-director and professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) at MSU. Research conducted on the fellowship has already shown increases in the teachers’ knowledge of integrating technology, leadership skills and confidence in their ability to promote learning.

The power of collaboration

“The support we receive from Wipro is fantastic,” said Mishra. “More and more, as federal dollars get tight, we have to look toward organizations such as Wipro who have a strong social commitment to the communities they live and work in.”

India-based Wipro and the company’s chairman and founder, Azim Premji, have a history of supporting education projects.

“[This program] dovetails with our vision of making a deep and impactful contribution toward achieving high quality education,” said Anurag Behar, chief sustainability officer at Wipro.

Behar previously collaborated with MSU faculty members to share expertise prior to the opening of Azim Premji University in 2011. Premji later spoke at Michigan State’s spring commencement and received an honorary doctorate.

MSU also has a previous relationship with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which serves as a popular site for the university’s teaching internship. Faculty members hope to expand the fellowship to other urban communities if more funding becomes available.

“[MSU] knows how to teach teachers and how to do it in a manner that changes and transforms their instruction,” said Michelle Moody Frazier, elementary magnet coordinator at CPS. “Our hope is that, as [the Wipro fellows] go back to their schools, they will be a catalyst for change, not only in how the teachers in their school think about math and science but also for the larger surrounding school community.”

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