UCR students look at computers in a classroom
March 11, 2022

UC Riverside’s FIERCE Scholars are diversifying the Inland Empire teacher workforce

A gift from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is funding a program to get local education students into graduate or credential programs

Author: Holly Ober
March 11, 2022

The UC Riverside School of Education is building a pipeline to funnel UCR undergraduate students into a School of Education graduate or credential program. The Fueling the Inland Empire Region with Community Educators scholars program, or FIERCE Scholars, is designed to improve equitable educational and economic outcomes in the region, which is one of the fastest-growing population centers in the country, and home to some of the largest school districts in California. 

Students participating in the three-year program will receive mentoring, professional development opportunities, and an annual $1,000 scholarship. The first cohort launched this academic year and two additional cohorts are planned for fall 2022 and 2023. These latter two cohorts will be funded by a $165,375 gift from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union.

“We are honored to support UC Riverside School of Education FIERCE Scholars, an incredible program providing a more equitable pathway for aspiring educators. The program’s focus on developing diversity among educators in the region will inspire future generations of students in the community,” said Bill Cheney, SchoolsFirst FCU CEO.

The program is the brainchild of School of Education interim dean Louie Rodriguez. 

“My vision for the FIERCE Scholars Program is to create an initiative that aims to transform the regional education workforce by capitalizing on and retaining Inland Empire talent here in the region. By investing in the development of local community educators, we are making an intergenerational commitment to our communities and are striving to make a significant impact,” he said. 

A UCR Center for Social Innovation study highlighted the need for greater diversity among Inland Empire teachers and education leaders. The report found there are 15.9 white teachers per 100 white students compared to 1.7 Latinx teachers per 100 Latinx students in the Inland Empire, even though a majority of students in the region are Latino. In addition to the lack of educator diversity, many districts face teacher shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lack highly qualified educators in key subjects of math, science, special education, and bilingual education. 

With over 80% of UCR’s undergraduate students identifying as students of color, UCR’s FIERCE Scholars program aims to put more highly qualified teachers into regional schools by recruiting more of these students into graduate and credential programs.  

Amos Lee, an assistant professor of teaching and FIERCE Scholars Program coordinator, said a focus of the FIERCE Scholars program is support the transition from undergraduate to a graduate or professional program, in part by providing access to information about teacher credentials, school psychology, among other things.

“Many in our cohort are the first to attend a four-year university. Likewise, for many, they will be the first in their families to apply to a graduate program,” Lee said. “So, it is crucial to make sure that they have multiple opportunities to learn more about their career interests and support their preparation in applying for graduate programs.”

UCR student Xochilt Salgado is a member of first cohort of FIERCE Scholars. She is Chicana and a first-generation daughter of immigrants. 

“I have lived in Moreno Valley for over 20 years, which I call home. Moreno Valley is where my community is, and that is where I plan to use the support and knowledge I learned in FIERCE Scholars,” she said.

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