"We're at risk. Teachers in industrial technology are few and far between," Eric Knoll, ALEC's newest assistant professor of practice said. "We need teachers at the high school that can get students hands-on career exposure in the areas of Skilled and Technical Sciences for students to be college- and career-ready."
In 2014, Nebraska had 18 new teaching openings in industrial technology across the state, but only 4 new graduates to fill those positions. As a result, a number of programs were discontinued.
"Without STS programs, those high school students won't get the same career exposure," Knoll said. "We have to provide skilled, qualified teachers to maintain STS programs in our high schools around the state and we've got to increase the number of graduates so we can fill the need."
That's why Knoll is working to build the STS teacher preparation program as a degree option under ALEC's Agricultural Education Bachelor of Science teaching degree.
"STS is synonymous with industrial technology on a secondary teaching level, but the STS teaching program includes more," Knoll said.
The STS areas include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which include careers in architecture, automotive, construction, manufacturing, mechanics, transportation, welding and woodworking. Through the STS program with ALEC, students prepare to be high school teachers by training and working in everything from engineering and technology, to learning teaching methods and working with others.
"The program is really flexible," Knoll said. "Students take courses at the community college, get their Associate of Science degree, then transfer their courses so they can complete their teaching degree at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln," Knoll said.
Course equivalency agreements with nearly every community college in Nebraska enables students enrolled in the STS teaching program to save money through lower tuition costs and start their college careers closer to home. Students also have the option to live on the UNL campus while taking courses at a community college, giving them the four-year campus experience.
In the STS teacher preparation program, students work one-on-one with Knoll and teachers from community colleges around Nebraska to choose classes at the beginning of their degree program. Later, they are placed in high schools to complete the student teaching requirement.
"Hopefully we can start getting some students to see that teaching really is a viable career and a career that is rewarding over time," Knoll said. "To me, the greatest joy in teaching is building relationships and changing a student's life based on their interest or passion." Students learn by doing project-based and problem-based assignments in their classes.
"They go and do," Knoll said. "It's the kind of learning so many students crave in high school, which helps them see the real-world applications of the math and science they're taking in other classes."
At the undergraduate level, UNL agricultural education- teaching students are working on real world problems, too. Students take basic and advanced welding classes at Southeast Community College in Lincoln as a part of their teacher preparation program. STS students who either start at SCC or choose the four- year campus experience take classes at SCC, as well.
"UNL students develop their welding skills to a level where they feel confident teaching others," Karen Beaman, welding instructor at SCC said. Beaman works closely with students to develop their technical and teaching skills simultaneously. "I share my experiences and mistakes I've made to help them anticipate some of the situations they will face as teachers," Beaman said. "I love being a welding instructor. Teaching others a skill they will use in many different ways is very rewarding."
"There is a need for skilled labor in the United States, so it's great to see that UNL students want to help promote technical and trade skills." Beaman said. "Most of my UNL students are female," Beaman added, "and I think it's important for young girls to have positive women role models. Women can be great welders or anything else they want to be!"
Find out more about ALEC's STS program and see course equivalences from community and state colleges.