Four of the five new awards granted by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will fund Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education projects to improve teacher education.  Improving STEM education is a national goal, a duty taken on by The SimCenter:  The National Center for Computational Engineering at UTC.  Computational engineering Ph.D. candidate Vince Betro, a former Hamilton County school teacher, volunteers to promote STEM education by reaching out to local schools.

Betro, who teaches UTC mathematics classes as an adjunct faculty member and is a full time graduate assistant at the SimCenter, holds a teaching certificate and worked as a public school teacher for three years in Hamilton County and Meigs County schools.

He assists the Center for Community Career Education at UTC, which has been bringing students from Tyner Middle, Normal Park Middle, Central HS, Brown Academy to the UTC campus since 2008.

“I have taken the students through real engineering labs, the super computer at the SimCenter, and the hydrogen fuel cell facility to get hands on experience with what they can do if they work hard to attain a strong math and science background in elementary, middle, and high school.  We do everything from tie algebra skills to computational simulation, teach scientific reasoning through simple experiments, and try to get the kids excited about what lies beyond the often difficult, seemingly singular mathematics they are learning,” Betro said.

Similarly, Betro has worked with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Girl Scouts through their “Engineering a Future” program, and he also worked with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on an ACT Prep workshop in Math in March.

Although the state of Tennessee demands standardized testing in math and science, Betro says those tests are not necessarily the best predictor of the way students will internalize and synthesize the concepts needed to pursue a career in math and science.

“The need to get students excited about these subjects so that they take the time to practice basic skills, think scientifically, and actually internalize these concepts is great because we need a new generation of thinkers to help our nation grow scientifically and solve its own problems,” Betro said.  “This must begin very early, as much of the internal cerebral wiring is put in place while these students are in elementary school, as the studies have shown.”

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