Highlands to Award 200 Teacher Graduate Scholarships

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Evonne Roybal-Tafoya

Las Vegas, NM — Two hundred teachers will receive tuition and textbook scholarships to pursue online master’s degrees in education at Highlands University, thanks to a new $2.1 million grant from the United States Department of Education.

The 5-year grant funds new online graduate degrees at Highlands in curriculum and instruction, special education, or rehabilitation counseling. The grant also funds three new School of Education faculty and other staff.

“New Mexico and the nation will benefit from this new online graduate education program,” said Evonne Roybal-Tafoya, the grant author and Educational Outreach Services director. “This grant will help fill upcoming employment gaps in education while advancing the workforce. It targets Hispanics, who are the fastest growing population and are also underrepresented in higher education.”

The federal Promoting Post Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans Program awarded the grant. Non-Hispanic students are also eligible for the tuition and textbook scholarships.

The new online courses will be offered beginning spring semester 2015.

“Given how rural New Mexico is, online learning provides teachers with access to graduate education that they wouldn’t normally have,” said Belinda Laumbach, School of Education interim dean. “There are many educational reform initiatives underway in New Mexico designed to improve student achievement, from instructional practices to teacher evaluation. This grant project will help provide veteran teachers with the professional learning they need to implement these new initiatives such as Common Core State Standards.”

Laumbach said embedded videos, links to research, virtual field trips, and hands-on computer based learning activities tied to course objectives enrich online learning.

“When done well, online learning provides access to great educational resources while allowing students to interact with professors and classmates. With online learning, educators are limited only by their imagination and creativity,” Laumbach said.

Laumbach added that the School of Education will give teachers a great deal of support through mentoring from faculty and master teachers, which will maximize graduate degree completion.

“We chose the name Conectado for the project because this Spanish word evokes its meaning on many levels such as connect, join, link, bond, mix and relate,” Roybal-Tafoya said. “These words suggest linking technology with education, which is the heart of our grant.”

Approximately 55 percent of the grant will fund new personnel for Highlands. Two instructional design specialists will help develop the online courses that the three new education faculty will teach. An  activity director will oversee the grant.

Nearly half of the grant is earmarked for tuition scholarships and course textbooks. To be eligible, teachers must first be accepted as a graduate student in the School of Education.

Roybal-Tafoya said the Educational Outreach staff provided important input for the grant proposal, along with Laumbach and education professors James Alarid, Alice Menzor, Doug Main, Carolyn Newman, and Wally Thompson.