MACON/ATLANTA – Mercer University’s College of Education has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop computer science master teachers for schools in rural Georgia.
The project aims to serve the national need of developing highly effective computer science teacher leaders who are prepared to strengthen the ability of rural school systems to provide access to high-quality instruction for all students.
Dr. Thomas Koballa, dean of the College of Education, serves as principal investigator on the grant project, along with co-principal investigators Dr. Susie Morrissey, assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education; Dr. Bob Allen, professor and chair of computer science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Anthony Choi, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering.
The project includes partnerships with Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, the Computer Science for Georgia Academic Partners Network and high-need school districts in Clinch, Coffee, Evans, Jeff Davis, Tattnall, Treutlen and Wheeler counties, as well as Dublin City Schools.
Georgia Department of Education data indicates that of the 81,144 Georgia middle school and high school students enrolled in computer science courses during the 2020-2021 school year, fewer than 20 percent were students in rural school systems. Additionally, of the 309 certified computer science teachers, only 86 taught in rural schools.
“Job reports indicate thousands of unfilled computer science positions in Georgia and many more unfilled positions that demand the thinking skills taught in computer science courses,” said Dr. Koballa. “Students attending rural schools in our state, especially members of underrepresented groups, don’t have access to computer science instruction to prepare them for these positions compared to students attending urban and suburban schools.”
“We are excited to work with teachers who are dedicated to providing their students with computer science opportunities that will enable them to pursue careers in a well-paying industry with a shortage of applicants,” added Dr. Morrissey.
The project team will recruit and train 16 certified computer science Master Teacher Fellows (MTFs), including one middle school teacher and one high school teacher from each of the eight partner districts.
MTFs will receive tuition and a stipend to complete a 14-month online Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in Teacher Leadership degree program, followed by online computer science mini-courses, in-person computer science leadership assemblies and computer science system-level planning events.
“This program will develop not only the understandings and pedagogical skills to teach computer science courses but also to serve as computer science leaders for their school districts. As computer science teacher leaders, MTFs will be able to mentor other computer science teachers and inform school- and district-level decisions about curriculum, course offerings and career pathways,” said Dr. Koballa.
Nonprofit partners, such as the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, University of Georgia Agricultural Extension Service and the Software Engineering Group at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, will provide MTFs with career-focused computer science links within rural communities.
“When Dean Koballa asked me to join this team, I was ecstatic,” said Dr. Allen. “Computer science education is one of my passions. Throughout my years at Mercer, I have conducted numerous introductory computer programming workshops for K-12 teachers in Middle Georgia. This grant enables Mercer to build a sustainable platform for encouraging and developing high-quality computer science teachers throughout the state of Georgia.”
“We want to have an impact and lay out sustainable policies and mechanisms, so that each of the school districts are able to continue what they started, and all future students will benefit,” added Dr. Choi.
About the College of Education
Mercer University’s Tift College of Education – with campuses in Macon, Atlanta and the University’s two regional academic centers – prepares more professional educators than any other private institution in Georgia. Named for the former women’s college that merged with Mercer in 1986, the College of Education offers baccalaureate and graduate degrees, and is guided by the conceptual framework of the “Transforming Educator,” which supports those who aspire to grow professionally throughout their careers, while also seeking to transform the lives of students. For more information, visit education.mercer.edu.