EXCITE grant supports Hispanic, low-income teachers continuing education

August 3, 2020 | UHCL Staff

EXCITE grant supports Hispanic, low-income teachers continuing education, in career

The College of Education at University of Houston-Clear Lake has received a $2.5 million grant to help address the shortage of teachers in Houston. The Exploring Careers in Teaching grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans division, is specifically aimed at supporting Hispanic or low-income students to enroll and succeed in the university’s Master of Arts in Teaching program and the Education Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction program.

Project Coordinator Monica Martinez said one of the grant’s main goals is to help increase the number of students in UH-Clear Lake’s MAT and EDCI programs through recruitment and outreach. “During the recruitment process, we tell prospective students about the grant, and then offer them support through the entire application process so they do not feel overwhelmed,” she said. “The grant supports MAT students who must take the Pre-Admission Content Test by offering workshops and study materials. Once in the program, there’s a program specialist, Dedrick Smith, who is there to provide academic and social support. Many students aren’t traditional, so they need help managing their way through this program to get the degree.”

The grant affords similar assistance to students in the EDCI program, supporting them through the GRE or writing exam, and offering additional support through tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships. It also offers the opportunity for teachers to participate in career workshops to practice interviewing skills, as well as financial literacy workshops. “Hispanic and low-income students might need help understanding how loans work and how to save for retirement. It helps them be successful teachers as well as successful in life,” Martinez said.

“One of the best parts of receiving this grant is that it has embedded within it supports that affect our candidates’ academic, financial and cultural lives,” said Professor of Literacy, Language Arts and Literature Studies Lillian McEnery. “It allows for them to be an integral part of a learning community going through their master's or doctoral programs with support systems along the way. At virtually every point--when they register, when they prepare to take their state exams, when they continue to build their financial plans--they have specific workshops and seminars to address these aspects of the program.”

The funds will be disbursed over the course of four years, Martinez continued, and allows students up to $5,000 per year in scholarships. “There are also paid graduate assistantships available through the grant, which helps students acquire skills and knowledge as well as a paycheck,” she said. “One of the goals of the grant is to help relieve the debt burden on students.”

Selene Reyes Verhofstad, who received her Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from UHCL in 2017, is receiving grant assistance to complete her doctorate in education in curriculum and instruction. She said the funds came at a time when she really needed it. “My parents are Mexican and I’m a first-generation college student,” she said. “The funds helped pay about half my tuition last semester.”

She added that she learned that UHCL is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and that the EXCITE grant program really exemplifies that. “This grant is very helpful to Hispanic students,” she said. “I felt that they were out there reaching toward us to become part of the community. They made me feel welcomed and gave me a sense of belonging at UHCL.”

Reyes Verhofstad said she taught chemistry at J. Frank Dobie High School in Pasadena Independent School District. “I’m considering going into administration after I get my doctorate,” she said. “I’m at the beginning stage of receiving benefits from this grant, but I can see they care and that I’ll be getting continued support.”

McEnery said, “Research points to the fact that graduate degree holders can expect lifetime earnings at least double that of those individuals who hold only a high school diploma. How exciting to be a small part of making this a reality for our graduates!”

Learn more about the EXCITE program online.