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Austin Peay’s Teacher Externship program forges academic-industry partnerships

By: Megan Simpson April 5, 2024


Photo: Clarksville-Montgomery County teachers tour one of the solar farms in Clarksville, Tennessee, as part of Austin Peay’s new teacher externship program. (Photo by CDE Lightband)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. Teachers are stepping out of the classroom and into the workforce through an innovative externship program offered by Austin Peay State University’s Jack Hunt STEM Center, gaining hands-on experience to enhance their STEM lessons.

The idea for teacher externships was born after two Moore Magnet Elementary School teachers connected with the center’s co-director, Dr. Donna Short, in spring 2023. They arranged to visit several STEM-related programs on Austin Peay’s campus. After witnessing the tour’s impact, Short realized the experience could be expanded to serve more local teachers.

“After this experience, I decided that this would be a good way for the College of Education to support teachers already in the classrooms,” she said. “We devote a great deal of time and effort to train teachers, but we need to have a follow-up with teachers in the community.”

A Program with Mutual Benefit

Last fall, Short piloted the first STEM Teacher Externship Program to connect local educators with community partners, helping teachers bring real-world experience to the classroom in an accessible and relatable way. Many of Tennessee’s elementary teachers lack science content expertise, but the externship expands their toolkits and builds confidence in their instructional abilities.

According to data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as rapidly as other occupations. Developing and recognizing the skills required to meet these industry demands is critically important to Tennessee's future. Providing local teachers with externship experiences allows students to understand these fields and pathways firsthand and helps local employers build an early talent pipeline by introducing teachers and students to their work.

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Photo: CDE Lightband gave Clarksville-Montgomery County teachers a day-in-the-life look at what it takes to maintain the city’s power lines. (Photo by CDE Lightband)

Program Participants

Nine Clarksville-Montgomery County School System teachers from Burt Elementary and Moore Magnet participated in the fall pilot.

As part of the experience, teachers enrolled in a three-credit-hour, graduate-level course at Austin Peay State University. They were then matched with local businesses or governmental organizations for an intensive, multiday externship.

Participating teachers gained hands-on experience at the following host sites:

These employers were eager to participate in the program. They planned experiences for the teachers ranging from going behind the scenes on job sites to seeing how the electricity that powers our region is generated.

Burt Elementary’s Amy Palmer spent her time at Lyle-Cook-Martin Architects, where she experienced the many facets of architecture.

“While shadowing the architect, I could see several different layers of what it consists of to be an architect, from brainstorming to seeing technology in action,” she said. “This was an eye-opening experience of the various dimensions and job opportunities students could [use] to take an idea to a completed project.”

The experience proved equally valuable for the employer partners, who experienced their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities through a different lens.

“It was very enjoyable to learn how architecture can be incorporated into an elementary curriculum and see our profession through a young [student's] perspective,” said Marshall Duncan, partner at Lyle-Cook-Martin Architects.

Duncan noted the ability of teachers and their students to “make the theoretical move into the practical” is a benefit of the program.

Each participating employer provided a stipend to its partner school and teacher to incentivize the experience and help cover substitute teaching costs.

This funding is already being used to create STEM learning opportunities for local students, including Palmer’s third-graders.

“She purchased with the funding Lego kits for her class and the other third-grade classes,” Short said. “The students had to draw a blueprint of a playroom and then use the Lego sets to build the room.”

Like Palmer, the other participants developed and implemented project-based lesson plans using the knowledge gained from the externship.

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Photo: An Austin Peay teacher extern learned more about what linemen do at CDE Lightband during the fall 2023 program. (Photo by CDE Lightband)

What’s Next

Short is already planning for the Fall 2024 program and aims to open the externship opportunity to 12 teachers during the next academic year. Clarksville-Montgomery County School System teachers or local businesses interested in participating can email Short at shortd@apsu.edu for the next steps.

About the Jack Hunt STEM Center

To learn more about Austin Peay State University's STEM Teacher Externship Program, visit www.apsu.edu/jack-hunt-stem-center. Other services the center provides include continuing education seminars, workshops, lesson planning resources and access to state-of-the-art supplies and equipment. The Jack Hunt STEM Center, led by Drs. Philip Short and Donna Short, is housed within the Eriksson College of Education at Austin Peay.