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U of M Will Make Good Use of $1 Million Gift from Automotive Giant Volkswagen

For release: March 25, 2009
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843

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Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) has pledged a gift of $1 million to the University of Memphis as part of a statewide program of support to secondary and post-secondary institutions in Tennessee.  The U of M’s gift will be used to support the University’s STEM program, in which University professors work with middle and high school teachers to make them more proficient in those areas and to help them interest students in pursuing those fields of study.

The gift is particularly timely for the U of M, because it has recently launched a campus-wide initiative to focus, coordinate, and advance efforts to recruit, retain, and prepare the next generation of researchers, educators, and industry professionals associated with STEM courses – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  A central pillar of this initiative involves partnering with universities across the nation to develop innovative ways to recruit, prepare, and support highly qualified middle and high school mathematics and physical science teachers to energize the next generation of youth for STEM study.  Moreover, this initiative will support linkages among the University, local industry, K-12 teachers, and industry associations to develop a series of outreach programs to excite a diverse cadre of students and nurture their interest in STEM careers.

The University currently awards degrees to more than 800 teachers annually and is the primary supplier of teachers in West Tennessee.  However, only a handful of teachers graduate each year with expertise in mathematics and the physical sciences, resulting in deficiencies in instruction across the region.  Last year, for example, Tennessee was one of at least two states that produced only one new certified high school physics teacher.

  That has a negative ripple effect on student interest in pursuing STEM disciplines, particularly among those who have traditionally been underrepresented in these professions.  Soon to compound the problem in Tennessee will be a move by the Tennessee Board of Education to increase the number of science and math courses, chemistry and physics in particular, as requirements for high school students who are preparing to attend college.

 An investment of $1,000,000 to establish the Volkswagen Fund for Innovation in STEM Teaching and Learning will provide much needed support for this initiative.  The University of Memphis Committee on STEM, a group appointed by the provost and made up of some of the University’s most respected faculty researchers and educators, will annually recommend investments made from this fund.  Investments may range from providing fellowships for practicing or pre-service teacher candidates to providing scholarships for disadvantaged students to participate in summer STEM programming to providing partial support for faculty who agree to set aside a portion of their time to work on designing and testing innovative teacher preparation programs. 

 U of M President Shirley Raines said the gift has the potential to make a major, positive difference in the University’s efforts to enhance the teaching of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.  “Although our efforts on behalf of STEM education are already robust,” Raines said, “this major gift will make it possible for our faculty to increase their work in introducing even more students, as well as teachers, to those subjects.”

University Provost Ralph Faudree added, “Our faculty has long been involved in promoting education in areas related to STEM.  With these funds, those professors will be able to augment the current programs and create new ones.  Even more important, this generous gift will give the University the financial leverage to obtain even more funding from other sources for those critical areas of study.”

 Founded in 1912, the University of Memphis is a comprehensive metropolitan research university that is recognized nationally and internationally for its academic, research, and athletic programs. With more than 20,000 students, the U of M offers more than 254 areas of study for those seeking bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. It also offers the juris doctor (law) and education specialist degrees.

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