UNK receives grant to promote STEM education in preschool

LINCOLN – The University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Education recently received an $86,375 grant from Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN) to promote science, technology, engineering and math education in Head Start programs.

Presented Tuesday during WIN’s annual awards ceremony in Lincoln, the grant supports a collaboration between the UNK College of Education and Nebraska Head Start that focuses on early STEM concept development by giving preschool teachers an opportunity to advance their teaching practices.

“The UNK Head Start on STEM project is designed to increase Head Start educators’ knowledge, skills and dispositions for planning and implementing developmentally appropriate STEM activities for preschool-age children,” said the program’s leader, Paula Thompson, an assistant professor of teacher education at UNK.

The funding will provide four tuition-free, graduate-level courses for up to 20 Head Start educators along with individually designed support for increased participant retention and success. These educators have the potential to directly impact hundreds of Nebraska children and their families each year.

The Head Start early childhood education program reinforces efforts to prepare Nebraska​’s youngest children for future school and career success. Giving children a strong foundation in STEM subjects is a long-term investment intended to bolster the number of Nebraska high school graduates who meet national STEM benchmarks, which is now around 27%, as well as meet the demand for a growing segment of STEM-related jobs in the state.

This is the first WIN grant awarded to UNK in the group’s 10-year history. It was presented to Thompson, the principal investigator, and co-investigators Jane Strawhecker, a professor of teacher education, and Dena Harshbarger, an associate professor of teacher education.