‘Reverse site visits’ are a powerful part of MentorLinks

Aaron Hanai (left), engineering instructor at Kapi'olani Community College, and Maria Bautista, Kapi'olani's STEM program director and physics professor, learn about flexible manufacturing training systems in Clark College's lab from Ken Luchini, mechatronics instructor, during their reverse site visit in 2015. (Photo: David Hata)

MentorLinks grants include travel support for the faculty members selected as mentees to visit their mentor’s college.

Theses “reverse site visits,” as MentorLinks calls them, were added several years ago at the suggestion of program participants and are in addition to the MentorLinks funded-visits each mentor makes to his or her mentees’ college.

The two biotechnology projects in the 2014-2016 MentorLinks cohort — Virginia Western Community College and Irvine Valley College — formed a “super group” that worked together at the annual MentorLinks meetings and informally shared the guidance of each other’s mentors.

They also visited three community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area together to see state-of-the art labs and learn in person from faculty who partner with Bio-Link, the Next Generation National ATE Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences. The visits energized both teams, which helped to affirm their plans and to gain significant advice on the content of their curricula as well as their lab plans.

The team members from Kap’olani Community College also describe their reverse site visit to three campuses in the Northwest as powerful. However, what they learned prompted them to re-think their plans, and eventually embark on a new institutional partnership to start an engineering technology program.

Already yielding results

During the past two years, Stacie Deaver has used the release time and professional development provided by the $20,000 MentorLinks grant to Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) to create a nine-month biotech career studies certificate program that has already had nine graduates.

Deaver, an assistant professor of biology at VWCC, said that without MentorLinks, the biotech program would likely not have happened. The MentorLinks grant provided the funds for the college to hire an adjunct instructor to take over some of Deaver’s courses so she had time to write three new courses. The new certificate program includes two previously existing courses.

Amy White, dean of VWCC’s School of STEM, agreed that the grant and Deaver’s energy were keys to moving biotech program from its many-year status as an institutional aspiration to reality.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focusing on MentorLinks, a program funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The two women are proud — and a bit tired — from all that they have done during MentorLinks to craft the curriculum for the biotech certificate program, recruit students, cultivate local industry partner, and to obtain $90,000 for equipment and program operations. Their mentor was Bart Gledhill, deputy director of Bio-Link.

Their MentorLinks accomplishments have encouraged Deaver and White to take on a more ambitious goal. They are now developing a contract research organization that will provide biotech students with hands-on, lab experience testing potential products; they are writing state and federal grant proposals to support their plans.

Proof is in student success

Deaver is most pleased about her students’ success.

“I think the biggest accomplishment honestly is my students. I’m extraordinarily proud of them,” she said.

The six students in the first cohort that graduated in May 2016 were all older than 30; for most of them, the certificate was their first credential toward an associate degree.

As the students learned aseptic techniques, standard operating procedures, quality control methods and protein analysis procedures, Deaver said they became “incredibly comfortable” in the lab.

AACC MentorLinks’ request for proposals from colleges seeking assistance to improve STEM technician programs and applications for mentors are now available at AACC’s MentorLinks webpage. College proposals and mentor applications are due April 28.

“The confidence they feel I attribute to MentorLinks. Honestly, because you guys gave me the ability to develop the course and a program that would be successful. They can see that; they can feel that; they reflect on that and [it] helped them become more successful,” Deaver said during her project report at the MentorLinks annual meeting last fall.

One of the program completers who transferred to Virginia Tech now works in a university lab to help with her bachelor degree expenses. Several other completers now have full-time jobs in industrial labs.

It is also noteworthy that two of the biotech certificate students were part of a four-person team that won second place in the 2016 Community College Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges. Their prize-winning innovation uses a GPS-guided robot to gather overripe and bruised apples from the ground in orchards and a process that converts the fruit’s sugar into biofuel.

Instructor’s networking serves students

Emalee Mackenzie, a biology instructor at Irvine Valley College (IVC), considers finding out how to network effectively the best lesson she learned during MentorLinks. Her many successes indicate that she is a quick study.

The biotech dual-enrollment program that Irvine Valley College developed during MentorLinks has enrolled 120 students at two high schools.

“Everything it seems Iike I accomplished I was able to do because so and so introduced me to so and so, and [they] had a great idea and had started it, and we were able to collaborate and work on that,” she said.

By following through on suggestions from her mentor, Vivian Ngan-Windward — an industry consultant who previously taught at Salt Lake Community College — and then following up on the leads provided by people she met at the annual MentorLinks meeting and ATE Principal Investigators Conference, Mackenzie did the following:

  • Convened an advisory group of Southern California bioscience employers who told her their biggest unmet need was for medical device manufacturing technicians.
  • Used employers’ info and the Community College Consortium for Bioscience Credentials (c3bc) Medical Device Skill Standards to develop IVC’s new biotech associate degree program to specialize in medical devices. Currently awaiting state approval, Mackenzie hopes to offer in the new degree in 2018.
  • Use curriculum that ATE biotech projects and centers created with NSF support as the basis for three biotechnician certificate programs that the college now offers.
  • Hosted a meeting at IVC of the community college educators and industry representatives who developed the c3bc Medical Device Skill Standards with U.S. Department of Labor support.
  • Started a dual-enrollment biotech program with two high schools.
  • Initiated the Bio-Link Depot in Southern California for high school and community college biotech educators to obtain free equipment and supplies for their classrooms from industry donations.

In less than two years, Mackenzie’s networking has yielded direct benefits to students.

For instance, Santa Ana College, a Biotech partner, placed four IVC students in industry internships with the support of its ATE grant.

IVC’s dual-enrollment biotech program already has 120 students. The arrangement for students to take their introductory biotech lecture and lab courses at their high schools, and the basic laboratory skills course on Irvine Valley’s campus during the summer grew out Mackenzie’s interactions with high school teachers at various meetings.

Plan for a new degree 

During MentorLinks, the faculty at Kapi‘olani Community College, who were exploring how to expand an existing transfer engineering program to include an engineering technology degree, learned they would need other academic partners to achieve their goals.

This realization occurred during the Kapi‘olani team’s reverse site visit with Dave Hata, the college’s MentorLinks mentor, at colleges in Oregon and Washington in 2015. Hata arranged for them to meet faculty members and see the facilities at Portland Community College’s (PCC) electronic, civil and mechanical engineering technology programs and microelectronics program, and Clark College‘s mechatronics program. Hata is a consultant who retired after more than 30 years of teaching at PCC.

During the Kapi’olani Community College team’s reverse site visit to Portland Community College, Eric Kirchner (center), chair of microelectronics technology department, shows Aaron Hanai and Maria Bautista the lab where students learn to use semiconductor process tools. (Photo: David Hata)

The vast space and equipment those technician education programs had at their disposal made a big impression on Aaron Hanai, Kapi‘olani engineering instructor, and Maria Bautista, the college’s STEM program director and physics professor.

In 2015, the college also conducted a labor study that found demand for engineering technicians at the Pearl Harbor shipyard and the local electric utility. These data helped Hanai and Bautista as they searched for supporters.

“Because of MentorLinks, we established excellent partnerships and collaborations,” Hanai said as he listed individuals at Hawaii’s Leeward Community College and within the state higher education system who became supporters of Kapi‘olani’s effort.

The state has given Kapi‘olani “authorization to plan” a new associate degree program in manufacturing technology with Leeward. The plan will expand Leeward’s non-credit offerings to include the for-credit associate of science (AS) program and expand Kapi‘olani’s offerings with technician preparation. The plan is for Kapi‘olani to offer the academic courses and for Leeward to provide the technical courses and hands-on labs.

With this new AS degree, Kapi‘olani will include a certificate of achievement in STEM education as part of an integrated industrial technology program. Hanai sees this as a way to boost dual enrollment among students at its feeder high schools, which have become more connected with the college during MentorLinks.

The more frequent and more substantial interactions among the educators at these various institutions has had the unexpected outcome of increasing their interest in Kapi‘olani’s MakerSpace.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.