Meeting the Need
“My math degree isn’t exactly what I thought it would be,” says UAFS senior Dorothy Baker, who is majoring in mathematics with teacher licensure for grades 7 - 12. “I thought you sat down and calculated all day, but it’s so much more than that. I think if I could actually get kids to see that, it would be amazing.”
That’s a good aspiration to have at a time when math and science teachers are in very short supply in the U.S. “It’s a huge need,” says Dr. Mark Arant, Dean of UAFS’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). “Right now, you’ve got a lot of people out there who have minimal training in math and sciences who are just doing fill-in work.”
The challenge is recruiting college students into programs—like the one Baker is in—that prepare them to teach math or science. At UAFS, for example, only about ten percent of students in the College of STEM are studying to become teachers.
“To meet the needs of our local schools, we have to increase that number,” says Arant. But how do you make those majors more appealing to students?
Enter Mona Fuller Alonzo, a 1960 graduate of Fort Smith Junior College, and her husband, Dick Alonzo, both of Northville, Michigan. The couple recently made a generous gift to the UAFS Foundation to establish the Mona Fuller Alonzo Scholarship Endowment, which funds scholarships for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in STEM education with teacher licensure.
In addition to simply helping STEM education students afford their education, says Arant, the Alonzo scholarships will serve as a powerful tool to recruit students into the programs in the first place. Which is exactly what the Alonzos had in mind. “This will hopefully help UAFS train more science and math teachers,” says Mona, “which I understand are badly needed in the area.”
This year, Baker, the senior math education major, received one of the first two Alonzo scholarships. While she had long ago decided to become a math teacher—during her second year of high school, she says—the $2,500 scholarship did help her afford textbooks, offset her living expenses, and allowed her to pay for a car repair without which she would have been unable to do her observation hours in classrooms around the region.
The Alonzos understand that kind of need. Mona worked her way through Fort Smith Junior College and then Austin Peay State in Tennessee. “I had very little money,” says Mona, who grew up in Arkoma. “I was very uneasy because I had no backup in terms of funding. It was tough working and going to college, but that was just what you did then.”
They’re happy, though, to be able to make things a little easier for the students who receive their scholarship. “I just feel like I want to help other people who are bright and might need a hand,” says Mona.
For her part, Baker, who intends to stay in the region, wants to pay the Alonzos’ generosity forward, rather than back. “I want to be able to help all these kids that are struggling. It’s basically community service to me. I don’t care about the money; I care about the kids, how I can help them learn, how I can help them better themselves.”