TWU is all about helping its students with their education as much as it can, and the PIONERAS scholarship is one of the many unique ways that the university accomplishes this.
Now, in its second year of existence, the Professional Improvement through Optimization of Native-language Education and the Realization of Academic/familial Symbiosis, or PIONERAS, scholarship has aided 28 students so far, and TWU plans on financially supporting 14 more students through the scholarship next year. The scholarship provides funding for both in-service, bilingual teachers and pre-service bilingual teachers, meaning that TWU is assisting undergraduate students on the bilingual education track as well as graduate students who are currently teaching bilingual classes in the field. According to Associate Grant Program Director Liliana Grosso, the PIONERAS scholarship provides funding for “the tuition and fees for five undergraduate courses in their area of specialization, a stipend for textbooks, and a study abroad program in Costa Rica in the summer.” Grant Manager Carolyn Hardin said that each student receives around $13,250 in funding from the scholarship.
The PIONERAS scholarship committee is also working with the 12 Denton ISD schools to provide further education for the bilingual teachers currently in the field. There are two groups of 12 teachers who have been put through graduate courses with the help of the PIONERAS scholarship, according to Grosso.
“We have a two-tier program for the in-service students,” Grosso said, “Tier-one is a scholarship to take three graduate courses in bilingual education. For those of them who go through tier-one and want to complete a graduate degree, they then apply for this tier-two scholarship and continue taking courses for a master’s or a Ph.D.”
TWU is able to provide the PIONERAS scholarship to students because of a grant given to the university by the federal government in the amount of $2.2 million in 2016, according to Grosso. There have been two group of students funded by the scholarship so far, and Grosso and Hardin are currently recruiting for the third group to receive the scholarship. Unfortunately, after the third cohort of PIONERAS students ends in August of 2020, the grant funding for the scholarship will have been depleted. However, Grosso said that there are plans to apply for another grant in order to continue supporting students.
“This will be our sixth grant of this type,” Grosso said, “All of them [the grants] have been from the Department of Education from different offices, but four of them have been from the Office of English Language Acquisition.”
The goal of the grant for the Office of English Language Acquisition is to “improve the academic achievements of English-language learners in our schools,” said Grosso.
While the financial support has helped students in the way of paying for their courses, it has also given them the opportunity to have a hands-on experience with both English and Spanish to enhance their education.
In regards to how the scholarship benefits students and the community, Grosso said “their identity as biliterate students gets strengthened by their trip to Costa Rica, and they are proud of who they are. This is very important because they are going to be teaching students who sound and look like them and have similar experience to theirs.”