Why This Trio of Funders Is Helping Convert STEM Professionals to Teachers

California is facing a crisis, and we’re not talking about the water shortage. Schools in the Golden State are in dire need of qualified math and science teachers to prepare students for jobs in ever-growing STEM fields. California ranks in the bottom third of all states in awarding bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. When the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated that we’re falling woefully short of producing enough STEM professionals to maintain our country’s preeminence in science and tech, they weren’t being hyperbolic.

EnCorps was founded in 2007 by former Paramount Chair and CEO Sherry Lansing to attack this problem from a different angle. By helping mid-career or retired STEM workers transition into the classroom, the California-based nonprofit is giving experts a chance to get middle school and high school students excited about STEM learning. We wrote a few months ago about the Keck Foundation’s $250,000 grant to help EnCorps deepen its impact in California schools.

Recently, three more funders stepped up to support the nonprofit’s efforts to recruit and train new STEM experts seeking a second act as educators. The American Honda Foundation is committing $10,000 to fund scholarships for Career Technical Education (CTE) and single-subject teacher credential programs and the Cheryl Saban Self-Worth Foundation for Women and Girls is providing $77,000 in credential scholarships. The Boeing Foundation is providing support for professional development with a $40,000 grant. The money is available to people selected as EnCorps teachers and fellows.

Related: IP's Funding Guide for Science Education

Since Katherine Wilcox became executive director of EnCorps in 2014, the organization has fine tuned its methods to improve results. “We switched to a true cohort model with increased emphasis on professional development to support the transition to teaching for STEM professionals,” Wilcox told Inside Philanthropy. “This resulted in a record-breaking year in the selection of 89 STEM professionals. Each one is an amazing individual!”

EnCorps teachers have an average of 17 years of experience working in STEM fields, and 80 percent have earned a master’s degree or Ph.D. In the first year of the program, participants receive mentorship and hands-on practice as volunteer tutors or guest teachers. During the first semester, they choose one of three tracks: CTE credential, which gets them into full-time teaching by the second year; single-subject credential, which takes 12 to 18 months; or STEMx tutor, which allows professionals to stay in their careers while volunteering.

We’ve seen a trend in grants for STEM teacher development, especially in the past two years, and with good reason. Dow Chemical, Carnegie Corporation, and Motorola Solutions Foundation are just a few of the big names investing in this area. So long as funders are hot for teachers, grant applicants would be wise to think about how their proposals can incorporate educator training.