GSE news brief artwork.
Teacher giving a science and engineering lesson to a diverse group of three students.

Published June 13, 2024


GSE scholar receives over $370,000 in grant funding to help teachers educate multilingual students in engineering

Mary McVee, PhD, earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that will aid her efforts in preparing teachers to implement engineering instruction for multilingual learners.

Mary McVee.

Mary McVee, Director: Center for Literacy & Reading Instruction

Mary McVee, professor of literacy education at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education, was recently awarded an NSF Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) grant for her project, “Elementary Teacher Professional Learning of Equitable Engineering Pedagogies for Multilingual Students.” This three-year project began back in July and will be funded by NSF through the summer of 2026. During this time elementary teachers will be provided an opportunity to learn about the intersections of race and language surrounding engineering education and better prepare them to meet the needs of multilingual learners who are learning STEM-related subjects.

“GSE has been successful at securing funding from NSF.  As the latest example, Dr. McVee's project innovatively addresses the need for engineering education in U.S. elementary schools,” said X. Christine Wang, professor and associate dean for research. “This achievement exemplifies our faculty's commitment to educational innovation and the value of interdisciplinary approaches in STEM education.”

Recent studies have found parents, administrators and teachers alike desire an emphasis on engineering programs in elementary schools. However, most elementary teachers have little preparation in the subject. On top of this challenge, educators are seeing an increased need to provide lessons for students who are learning English as an additional language. 

McVee collaborated with Jess Swenson in the UB Department of Engineering Education and saw these two challenges as an opportunity to create a more equitable environment for students to engage with the high-demand field of engineering, while also providing teachers the training to meet the needs of multilingual learners. “We wanted to focus specifically on professional development for elementary educators because so few have a background in engineering,” said McVee, who is also the director of GSE’s Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction. “We also know that there is an increasingly diverse linguistic group of students in our nation’s schools, who do not speak English as their first language. We wanted to recognize this dual challenge that we chose to address through an educator preparation lens.”

The elementary teachers involved in this program have been eager to learn how they could incorporate engineering into their STEM-related lesson plans while also becoming more mindful of how they could make their classrooms more equitable for students who may struggle with the nuances of the English language. “Engineering is project-based and can transcend language barriers because of its hands-on nature,” said McVee. “We can prepare teachers with the skills to bring engineering lessons into their classrooms. In turn, teachers can empower students with opportunities to communicate and learn in non-traditional ways through the combination of engineering education and best practices for multilingual learners.”

While creating a professional development model is the goal for the project, McVee wanted to be cognizant of not adding more work to a teacher’s day. “While I aspire to see this project become widely used, I also wanted to make sure our teachers were able to add these practices into plans they had already made, instead of adding more to their already full plates,” explained McVee.

Local, Western New York, teachers are participating in the project and are currently attending workshops at UB. McVee says her next steps will be to have these educators begin to implement the practices they learned in their classrooms: “The first year is a lot of planning and professional development, and then we move into implementation. Right now, teachers have just implemented their end-of-year engineering units and are very excited about what children are able to accomplish. We want to know what has been effective and what hasn’t so that we can generate a practical professional development model.”

“In the end, it isn’t about how successful these lesson plans are, but more about what we learn from the teachers and their interpretations of how effective these practices were in the classroom,” said McVee. “This will inform our models moving forward, and we hope to grow the project from there.”