An Analysis of Recruitment Strategies to Attract Applicants for an NSF Teaching Fellowship Program in Partnership with Rural High-Need Schools

  • NSF Noyce Award # 1557320
  • First Name Susan
  • Last Name McKay
  • Email
  • Discipline Other:: physical and life sciences, mathematics
  • Co-PI(s)

    Eric Pandiscio, University of Maine,
    Heather Rockwell, Maine Regional School Unit #67,
    Michelle Smith, University of Maine,
    MacKenzie Stetzer, University of Maine,

  • Presenters

    Elizabeth Byerssmall, University of Maine,
    Susan McKay, University of Maine,
    Laura Millay, University of Maine,
    Heather Rockwell, Maine Regional School Unit #67,
    Michelle Smith, University of Maine,
    MacKenzie Stetzer, University of Maine,
    Erin Vinson, University of Maine,
    Bill Zoellick, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park,


Attracting well qualified STEM teachers to rural high-need districts is crucially important in order to provide students in these communities with rich, engaging learning opportunities and strong preparation in STEM. The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) at the University of Maine has established an Undergraduate STEM Education Professionals Program (USEP) in which undergraduates and Master of Science in Teaching (MST) students work closely with teachers and with RiSE faculty members and conduct discipline-based education research. This study within our NSF Teaching Fellowship Program investigates the elements of this program that have influenced STEM majors to apply to our NSF Teaching Fellowship Program. Its findings will provide evidence to guide future recruitment, contributing to a stronger STEM teacher workforce and benefiting under-served students and their communities.


This study explores fellows’ impressions of the impacts of the recruitment programs on their development of a commitment to teach in high-need rural districts. In the USEP Program, undergraduate STEM majors become part of RiSE research groups and complete an undergraduate honors thesis or capstone project related to STEM teaching and learning. MST students conduct required Master’s thesis research. Both groups of students work with teachers to make evidence-guided improvements to curriculum, assessment, or instruction and conduct structured observations of PK-16 STEM classes. MST students also work as Teaching Partners, in which they are prepared and then assist STEM teachers with lessons that are challenging for their students. Undergraduates work as learning assistants in University of Maine STEM courses that use research-based active learning strategies.


We have found that, of the fifteen NSF Teaching Fellows selected to date, all had participated in one or more of these experiences prior to applying to the fellowship program. Using interviews and surveys, we have explored fellow’s impressions of how each of these experiences has impacted their commitment to a teaching career and their choice to apply for the NSF Teaching Fellowship Program. Bill Zoellick, Director of Education Research at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, is conducting and analyzing the interview data, and Laura Millay, RiSE Center Research and Evaluation Coordinator, leads the analysis of the surveys, which have been co-designed by members of the project leadership team.


Findings suggest that the opportunities to work collaboratively with teachers, assist in classrooms using student-centered methods, and work with evidence to investigate and improve teaching and learning contribute in complementary ways to students’ interest in pursuing a career in STEM teaching and committing to the NSF Teaching Fellowship Program. As the remainder of the fellows for our program are selected, we will continue to document and analyze fellows’ impressions of the impacts of these types of experiences on their career choices.Knowledge gained through this work will be shared through publications and conference presentations with those involved in teacher preparation, particularly those programs serving rural areas.

Broader Impacts

This study provides better understanding of how to recruit teachers to strengthen the STEM teacher workforce in rural, economically challenged communities. NSF Teaching Fellows are chosen for their potential as teachers and as leaders. As leaders, the fellows will contribute to their communities in many ways, bringing new approaches and problem solving skills. As they advance in their own careers, they will attract and mentor new teachers and other professionals. Effective recruitment is the first step in this cycle to strengthen educational and community infrastructure, leading to expanded opportunities and broadening participation in rural, underserved regions. Our NSF Teaching Fellowship Program links these fellows with a community of experienced, strong teacher leaders, who will work with them on this cycle of revitalization. Knowledge gained through this recruitment study will be disseminated through publications, conference presentations and discussions with key stakeholders.


Posted on July 6, 2017