University News

SUU’s STEAM Reaches Educators Statewide in Unique Program

Published: January 30, 2014 | Category: Community Outreach

For Kim Sauceda, a first grade teacher with East Elementary in Cedar City, adding the required professional development courses to her already hectic schedule was going to be a balancing act.

“It’s hard to come off a long work day with six year olds and then stay in the classroom for three more hours for the required development courses,” she stated. “I enjoy going to the classes, but attending was difficult.”

Sauceda isn’t alone and now through the Southern Utah University K12 Professional Development and Concurrent Enrollment program, teachers are receiving unprecedented support.

Beginning in September 2013 SUU’s College of Education & Human Development teamed up with professors across its campus to create a program that supported STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) initiatives to teach elementary and middle school teachers, like Sauceda, the content so their students are better instructed.

And it is with that idea the program was founded, instructs Deb Hill, dean of the College of Education & Human Development, “Elementary teachers know exactly how to instruct their kids, but many of them want more STEM-specific content knowledge. But when they were going in the past to development courses on science or math they were being taught by educators, not by the experts; we changed that.”

The first program in the state of Utah with content experts, such as Jacqueline Grant, assistant professor of biology at SUU who holds expertise in animal behavior and chemical ecology, is now the one lecturing area teachers on the life sciences so they can to become the experts.  

Grant said of the new system, “Elementary teachers aren’t just teaching reading or math, they are teaching biology, chemistry, engineering, they need to know it all and when they aren’t confident in the content, the students know it. That is why I am here.”

It is this blending of content and pedagogy that has SUU’s professional development program at the forefront, being the only program in the state with this type of integration and emphasis of STEM by the state.  

But integration isn’t the only novel bit of the program. Teachers are also paying a minimal price for the development classes that, in turn, count as a graduate level course that can then be used to receive a master’s of education degree from SUU.

“These teachers are now receiving the support and help that they need to better their classroom and now themselves,” stated Leilani Nautu, director of the SUU K12 program. “They can leave this five part program with 12 credits at the graduate level for only $23 a credit, something almost unheard of.”

With this integration of content and ability to receive graduate level credit, the deal gets even sweeter. Offering the program during the school day allows the University to give teachers SUU elementary education students to cover classes and in turn college students receive vital practicum hours.

“My students are able to go into the classes for those teachers in the professional development courses completely free of charge to the districts. These college students are now entering their student teaching with double the amount of hours of the typical education student, making them the most qualified applicant entering the field. That can’t be beat,” exclaimed Hill.

The good things continue with the program, that once educators complete the program they in turn become the content expert in their school and can boost the quality of teaching throughout an entire group of faculty.

To this end Hill stated, “This program isn’t just positively affecting the teachers in the development course. It begins with them but trickles down to their students who are receiving a higher quality of teaching then to the SUU students who are substitutes in the classrooms and then to the entire faculty at a school. The program has a positive affect on everyone involved.”

Only in it’s second semester, the program is now being offered to school districts across the state and has already been implemented in schools in Logan, Park City, Duchesne, St. George and West Jordan. Plans are being made to implement in Clark County, Nevada.

For questions on how your school district can be included in the next SUU K12 Professional Development cohort, contact Leilani Nautu at (435) 865-8081 or

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