College of Education and Tom Joyner partnership could possibly increase STEM educators throughout state

2019 RJT Byline

Dr. Dennis Williams

Dr. Dennis Williams

The College of Education and Human Development at Jackson State University recently partnered with the Tom Joyner Foundation and its Teacher Quality Initiative. The TQI, as it is known, could help increase the number of STEM educators in high-need school districts throughout Mississippi.

Approximately 31 JSU graduate students, with STEM backgrounds, are receiving an estimated $250,000 in scholarship funding to pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching at the HBCU. The scholars were required to have a 3.0 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math.

“We are highly pleased that all of the thirty-one candidates selected to the Tom Joyner Foundation have been accepted into the college’s Master of Arts in Teaching Program,” said Dr. Roosevelt O. Shelton, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.

“We are also pleased that the impact of our efforts is far-reaching, with current candidates residing and teaching within the states of Mississippi and Texas, the Vicksburg/Warren School District, Jackson Public School District, Hinds County School District, Holmes County Consolidated School District, Choctaw Central HS (Choctaw Tribal Schools), Waco Public Schools (TX) and Tunica County School District.”

Dr. Dennis Williams, coordinator of the Master of Arts in Teaching program, shared that another focus of the TQI is to produce educators with a range of teaching skills, heightened cultural competence, and sound knowledge of content. The initiative could also eliminate limitations for those working to gain initial teacher certification. JSU and North Carolina A&T are the only two HBCUs chosen for the program.

“We’re thankful for the MAT partnership because rarely do you find private foundations that award graduate-level students. Tom Joyner’s main focus is undergraduate students – Hercules Scholars and things of that nature. So we’re ecstatic at being chosen for this initiative,” said Williams.

A large part of student success is based on the unyielding support of faculty, administrators, and programs such as the TQI, Williams said. “We want to build confidence and capacity in these individuals, so they’re able to be effective teachers in the classroom.”

Also a visiting professor, Williams teaches classroom management. He shared that he is intentional about the types of guest speakers and practitioners he uses to engage students because he wants to make sure they have the proper information to accomplish objectives in their field. The scholarship, he explained, also provides opportunities for students to be mentored and additional resources to help them be more effective in the classroom.

“I think research has proven and shown that most teachers, regardless of the alternate or traditional route, leave the profession due to a lack of support. Support is key,” said Williams, a native of Chicago.

Moreover, programs provided by the Tom Joyner Foundation are important, Williams continued, due to the incentives, they offer educators. “This affords teachers an opportunity to do some things for their students without having financial constraints because most of them have to spend their own money in the classroom,” said the coordinator before urging that more teacher-based resources would be a tremendous help.

It will also help curb Mississippi’s brain drain he explained while pointing out that many teachers are moving outside the state for better salaries and an enhanced quality of life.

Williams, for one, seems committed to Mississippi. He and his wife met while students at JSU in the late 70s. Together they had a son, and after graduation, he returned with his family to Chicago. The alums married in ’88 and, after having two more children, moved back to Mississippi in the 90s.

“My wife got homesick. She decided that Chicago was not a good place to rear children, and I agreed with her, so we left,” he explained.  The couple’s two sons and daughter went on to graduate from JSU and are also educators.

Before working at JSU, Williams was employed in upper management for various organizations over the years. He is also the pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in D’Lo, Mississippi.

“I ended up at a private school in Jackson called Christ Missionary and Industrial High School. I became a coach, teacher, assistant principal, and athletic director. That’s when my career started to take off,” shared Williams.

Recognizing that JSU allowed him to make a more significant impact beyond the classroom, Williams applied for and was offered a job as a recruiter in JSU’s MAT program for a special grant. “I worked my way up from there,” he said and is now helping others make an impression in the education industry.

Currently in his 12th year at the HBCU, Williams said the most exciting part of working in the MAT program is recruiting individuals who are working jobs just to survive and helping them transition into a professional career. “Anytime you see people’s lives transformed before your eyes it’s memorable. That’s the reason why I do what I do.”