Lizandra Cordero’s daughter Lidia started second grade this year. Last year, she received an award for being the top math student in her class.
Lidia told her friends: “I’m good at math because mommy’s good at math, and she’s doing a math degree.”
Cordero is in her final year of completing her math degree at Texas Wesleyan University. She is the school’s first NSF Robert Noyce Scholar — a program that’s helping people with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields get their teaching qualifications. The goal is to get more graduates with STEM degrees teaching in low-income schools.
As a university participating in the program, Texas Wesleyan has $1.4 million for scholarships, stipends and program support to recruit and prepare STEM majors to become K-12 teachers in low-income schools. It allocates $23,400 in scholarships per student per year.
In April 2022, Texas Wesleyan started putting together the programming it needed to get the million-dollar grant, associate professor of education Elizabeth Ward said. The university had to redesign degree plans, add in hours for classroom teaching and working with mentor teachers.
Back in May 2023, Ward announced the university’s receipt of the grant, part of which goes to Tarrant County College for partnering with Texas Wesleyan. The bulk of the money, 60%, is awarded as student scholarships.
Right now, Cordero is the only recipient, but Ward said the campus is working on recruiting more people. The students will continue to receive degrees in math- or science-related fields, but complete the requirements to become certified teachers at the same time.
Texas Wesleyan project goals
- Revise math and science certification coursework to include field experiences throughout all STEM certification programs (done)
- Develop degree plans for 7-12 science, 4-8 science and 4-8 math certification tracks already approved by the Texas Education Agency (done)
- Develop and receive TEA approval for Texas Wesleyan to offer an 8-12 computer science certification track (in progress)
- Establish a recruitment pipeline to recruit on campus at Texas Wesleyan, transfer recruitment from Tarrant County College, recruitment directly from Fort Worth ISD, and access early interest from community-based programs. (in progress)
Cordero has three children, Lidia, 7, Leandra, 4, and Luke, 1, and part of what draws her to teaching is the thought of sharing their schedule. Right now, her morning commute — between dropping her kids off and getting to campus — is about an hour and a half.
It’s a hassle, but Cordero knows she’s making the right choice for her future. She graduated from Richland Hills High School in 2005 and went to college for a couple of years at Utah Tech University, but didn’t finish.
“I went home to be a mom for 10 years,” she said. “And then I came back to finish off what I had started.”
When she was seven-months pregnant with Luke, Cordero said she applied to be a teaching assistant in Lake Worth ISD. During the interview, they said if she finished her degree the district would hire her as a math teacher.
She said maybe she would one day — Cordero was close to finishing her degree — but her first paycheck as a teaching assistant sealed the deal: She wanted to make more money.
Once accepted at Texas Wesleyan, Cordero began classes as a math major. The scholarship helps her make ends meet, but Cordero is still a single mom, which comes with its own challenges.
Her son, Luke, was just 1-month-old when she started classes again. “They don’t have a pumping station here for anybody to pump [breast milk],” Cordero said. “So at the time, I’d have to jump in my car and pump, come back to class, go jump in my car, pump, come back to class. For two semesters, that’s what I did in my car.”
In some ways, like the pumping situation, Cordero feels like colleges still mostly cater to students who are 18 or 19, not people like her, who have kids and responsibilities.
“I hope one day maybe that changes for moms,” Cordero said. “They have to come back and go to school one day.”
Once she finishes her degree and gets a job in a classroom, Cordero hopes to be in a math class that all levels of students are required to take, not an advanced calculus class.
She wants to be someone who encourages students who struggle with classes, she said. No one in her family went to college, and Cordero said the expectation was for her to grow up and be a mom.
There’s nothing wrong with becoming a mom, Cordero said, but she wanted to go to school too. She hopes to help girls like her achieve their dreams, too.
A goal of the NSF Robert Noyce program is to get teachers in low-income schools, Ward said. The grant does not place the graduates in schools, but it highly encourages students to work at partner schools. In this case, that district would be Fort Worth ISD.
The program looks for women and people of color in math and science fields with the goal of encouraging girls and students of color to pursue STEM fields, Ward said.
“Many times these kiddos in these schools don’t get those enrichment opportunities and exposure to STEM fields,” she said. “The goal is they see teachers like them, they get excited about math and science and then, hopefully, they want to become teachers or go into STEM fields, because they’ve had this experience, and they see it as something that’s attainable for them.”
In Cordero’s opinion, better or more experienced teachers want the upper-level classes, she said. It’s easier to teach students who really care about school, but Cordero doesn’t want that, she said.
“Something that everybody has to take, you get to touch somebody else’s life,” she said. “I don’t want the easy route. When you do have the math degree behind you, teachers tend to go towards calc or all the easier classes and that’s not what I want to do. I want to be in the trenches.”
Disclaimer: Texas Wesleyan University is a supporter of the Fort Worth Report. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.