By Karina Valdes
With the rising need for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) educators, the University of Miami School of Communication is tackling this need head-on. Prospective students interested in earning a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Interactive Media now have the opportunity to apply for a new scholarship. The South Florida Educator Opportunity Award is presented to an M.F.A. student who commits to remaining in South Florida and teaching in a community college or public school (K-12) for a minimum of three years after graduation.
“Our Interactive Media program has initiated this tremendous opportunity for students interested in an M.F.A. in this important field and dedicated to our South Florida region,” said Karin Wilkins, dean of the School of Communication.
Students receiving the scholarship will receive a 100 percent tuition award and an additional stipend for working as graduate assistants.
“This award will recognize excellence, as well as encourage diversity in perspective by opening up our graduate programs to communities less represented and less able to enroll in graduate studies at the University of Miami. We are honored to be able to contribute to our regional community through the collaboration this award inspires,” said Wilkins.
Through conversations with local industry leaders, school teachers, and Miami Dade College (M.D.C.), Kim Grinfeder, department chair for Interactive Media, spearheaded this initiative. According to Grinfeder, this scholarship was developed to create a lasting positive impact on our local tech community.
“Universities have a responsibility to their local communities and, with this scholarship, we hope to support South Florida with the educators they need and help grow the local technology and innovation ecosystem organically,” added Grinfeder.
He and his faculty have a strong commitment to making sure there is an investment in local talent. Lindsay Grace, director of the M.F.A. in Interactive Media, views this scholarship as a means to mitigate local human capital flight by providing access to a dynamic interactive media education that can then be shared with future students of the discipline.
“We recognize that in order to incubate a healthy ecosystem of a wide variety of jobs and innovations, we need to encourage people to stay here. One of the challenges to staying here is getting the access to education that inspires you to say ‘Oh, I have what I need here.’ It’s difficult, sometimes, to recruit people from the local community, so we’re going to make them,” said Grace.
Local schools and colleges have an acute demand for STEAM faculty ready to foster innovation and curiosity in their students. Several years ago, Miami-Dade County Public Schools developed the STEAM School Designation program and outlined a commitment in its vision statement that “aspires to engage and prepare all of our students in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) to ensure our community has the next generation of inventors, explorers, innovators, and leaders.” M.D.C. has also developed curricula where students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) can earn a degree in various relevant areas. With such high demand in South Florida, this scholarship was developed to provide the local community with quality educators equipped to teach STEAM classes at the elementary, middle, high school, and college levels.
“We know that we’re producing these folks, but we need to make sure that they are incentivized to stay local and to invest in our community. So, this is one of those initiatives,” said Grace.
The ideal candidate for this scholarship is someone passionate about education and interactive media.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage someone who may be interested in education. That may be someone who’s already taught as a teacher. We’ve had some students come through the program that were either faculty at other institutions or were teaching at the K-12 level,” said Grace.
Although past teaching experience is beneficial, it is not required to apply for this award.
“Part of the unique situation for this particular role is that we’re also incorporating them into a teaching mentorship, which I think is important as part of the opportunity,” said Grace.
As a terminal degree, the M.F.A. allows students to teach at colleges and universities around the world. Coupled with the strong mentoring program within Interactive Media and hands on experience, students have the opportunity to teach a course after their first year of classes. Recipients of the South Florida Educator Opportunity Awards are expected to commit to teaching two undergraduate courses for the Department of Interactive Media before graduating. This translates to an opportunity to gain meaningful experience.
“What our department is trying to do is become this sort of foundation for that education, and we’re spreading the wealth. We’re encouraging other people to get access to our expertise and then plant some seeds here,” said Grace.
To apply or to learn more about this scholarship please visit, https://interactive.miami.edu/south-florida-educator-opportunity-award/.