Austin College has received a $1.2 million grant for a newly-launched scholarship program which aims to increase the number of students who not only study science, technology, engineering and math, but go on to teach the topics in under-served areas once they graduate.

“Its purpose is basically to encourage really talented STEM kids — science, technology, engineering and math-geared students — to consider teaching as a field,” Sandy Philipose, associate professor of education at Austin College said. “This money will help encourage those people to come into the field of teaching, but also help establish creative paths to recruiting and preparing those teachers to serve in high-needs school districts when they’re finished.”

Named after an inventor of the microchip, the Noyce Grant is funded by the National Science Foundation and will provide five years of financial support for the Austin College STEM Education Leadership Scholars program. The grant will largely be distributed in the form of scholarships for 11 students selected for the three-year program.

Under the program, recipients must work toward a bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related field, as well as a master’s in teaching and participate in on-site internships and mentoring sessions. Upon graduating, the scholarship recipients must then spend six years as an educator in school districts that struggle to secure instructors with such backgrounds.

Philipose explained that the ACSELS program was first developed roughly a year ago, when the college sat down with the superintendents of area school districts and discussed their current and future needs.

“One of their top needs was to have these STEM teachers,” Philipose said. “What happens when we’re kind of in this rural area and competing against the Metroplex for teachers, we’ll get somewhat newer teachers who will come up here for a little bit, but then go back to the Metroplex, which might be closer to home, and is sometimes more competitive in terms of salary.”

In a press release outlining the ACSELS program and grant award, Austin College identified the Sherman, Denison and Whitesboro independent school districts as being interested in the program and its potential benefits. The release also pointed toward program support from Grayson College, Collin College and North Central Texas College.

Philipose described the ACSELS program as a “regional pipeline” designed to recruit students from the area to attend Austin College, get their degrees and training, and then return to the area as STEM educators. She said the programs staggered scholarships — $12,500 for junior year, $25,000 for senior year and $40,000 for the graduate year — will reward students for their continued commitment to the program and make it financially easier for the graduates to work in districts where the pay will likely be lower, but the need is still high.

“Financially, it’s going to be a massive help,” Austin College freshman Connor Carnes said.

As a first year student at the school, Carnes is not yet able to apply for the ACSELS program and must wait until he enrolls as a junior. Carnes said although he’s still narrowing down his choice of major, he knows he wants to be a teacher and wants to be a part of the program.

“I’ll definitely be applying in the near future,” Carnes said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for high-needs schools and districts, so, regardless of the pay, I know this at least gives me an opportunity to do that.”