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Firms Help Workers Become Science, Math Teachers

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In separate ventures aimed at addressing the critical national shortage of mathematics and science teachers, two Massachusetts-based technology firms have programs under way that enable their employees to begin new careers as teachers.

The most recent effort, at Digital Equipment Corporation, began this fall with approximately 30 employees across the country participating in the firm's "Engineers into Education" program. Another 30 employees are expected to enter the program next spring, company officials say.

"The reality, of course, is that our 30 or 60 people a year isn't going to change American education," said Burton E. Goodrich, manager of the transition program. "But we hope to [serve] as a model for other businesses.

Based in Maynard, Mass., the high-technology firm, which employs some 70,000 workers nationwide, modeled its program after a smaller-scale version developed in 1987 by the Polaroid Corporation of Cambridge.

Polaroid's program began that year with just six candidates, and seven enrolled in the program in the following two years. Six of the 13 have found teaching jobs, according to Charles Lawrence, director of the program for Polaroid.

In a related effort, Polaroid brings science and math teachers into the workplace during the summer months and pays them a salary and stipend. The goal of this program is to help these teachers infuse more practical applications into their curricula when they return to their classrooms.

Recognizing the need to improve the training of the next generation of mathematicians and scientists from which they will draw their employees, both companies focused on enhancing the teaching corps.3

"What Digital was interested in doing was investing in some human resources as well as in the equipment we've been investing in," said Mr. Goodrich. "Hopefully, we'll get some students out of it long term. Digital pilot-tested its initiative last January for employees in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The 30 applicants selected for the program ranged in age from their late 20's to their early 60's. Of the 30, 26 followed through by resigning from the company and returning to college for the additional classwork required to become teachers.

Digital officials were so pleased with the success of the pilot, they expanded the program to include eligible employees throughout the country.

To be eligible, employees must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science, or mathematics. They must also have worked for the firm for at least five years and have an average or better performance rating.

Exploring Education

During the first phase of the pro gram, known as "Explore Education," participants leave the workplace for two weeks to explore their interest in a teaching career. During the first week, they attend seminars with school officials, college deans, teachers, and other members of the education community. In the second week, they visit schools, universities, and community colleges.

They then return to work, and on their own or in consultation with educators, decide whether to continue with the program. At the end of this eight-week period, they either leave the program or resign their jobs to begin preparing for their new careers.

To aid and encourage them during this transition period, Digital offers a benefits package. The former employees receive from 40 to 104 weeks of salary, depending on their length of service to the company, and continue to receive insurance benefits for one year.

Moreover, the package includes up to $13,000 in tuition reimbursement for one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study at an accredited college or university. Digital also will contribute $2,500 to help defray such educational costs as books and lab fees.

Money, however, is not a major incentive for participants, according to Mr. Goodrich, who estimated that the new teachers would earn between one-third and one-half of the salary they could command at a high-tech firm.

Polaroid pays its transition employees a year's salary, along with full tuition and book expenses, to attend special programs at Harvard University, Bridgewater State College, or Lesley College. On graduation, they receive a master's degree in education with certification to teach elementary or secondary math or science.

But Mr. Lawrence cautions that landing a teaching post in Massachusetts may be difficult given the public sector's deteriorating finances. Two of Polaroid's former employees who graduated in June have been unable to find teaching jobs, and the three who are currently in school have expressed their intent to leave the state when they graduate, he said.

Staff Writer Ann Bradley contributed to this report.

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