Mentor-Connect’s ‘phenomenal impact’

Robert Collins, department chair of nuclear engineering technology and co-principal investigator of the NSF ATE grant, with students in the Virtual Industrial Process Simulation Laboratory at Augusta Technical College. (Photo: Jason A. Dixon)

The Mentor-Connect program provides opportunities for transformational experiences for faculty and institutions. Just ask Melissa Frank-Alston, senior vice president of institutional effectiveness and research at Augusta Technical College, who said the program has had a “phenomenal impact” in her job.

A novice grant writer when she participated in Mentor-Connect’s 2015 cohort, Frank-Alston has secured $7.8 million in external support for the college and is one of 38 educators selected for the 2017-2018 Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence.

“We saw it as this is an opportunity for the National Science Foundation (NSF), for a project within NSF, to provide us with the technical assistance and tools that we needed because we were kind of new into the grant business,” Frank-Alston said.

In 2014, when Augusta Tech submitted its Mentor-Connect application, no one at the Georgia college had ever been involved in an NSF grant.

Designed to improve, inspire

The “huge advantage” Mentor-Connect gave Hugh Gallagher, a career coach, and his colleagues at Pennsylvania’s Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) was an introduction to the collaborative community of educators whose colleges have received NSF Advanced Technological Education grants.

At the HI-TEC Conference last month in Salt Lake City, Gallagher gave a presentation on the process technology program improvements that CCBC implemented with the ATE grant written with Mentor-Connect support.

Mentor-Connect opens faculty “to way beyond just a single mentor — to a community of mentors, that supports you,” Gallagher said. “You feel like you can pick up the phone or send an email out, and you’ve got someone who’s willing and ready to review and give you feedback. And the feedback isn’t just generic. It’s geared toward how to make you most successful.”

Laurie Miller McNeill, director of institutional advancement at Westchester Community College in New York said Mentor-Connect was a “profound and transformative experience for every member of our team.” She thinks the impact of ATE is spreading among other STEM faculty members as they learn about curricula and other resources developed by ATE projects and centers.

Now that she and other team members are implementing the project that they began formulating with their 2015 Mentor-Connect application, McNeill said she has new appreciation for how helpful it was to have nine months to work on their plans for the photonics and laser project with a Mentor-Connect mentor.

How to qualify

Mentor-Connect’s grant (funded by an NSF ATE grant to Florence-Darlington Technical College and administered by the South Carolina Advanced Technological Center for Excellence in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges) require a multi-level commitment from two-year colleges selected to participate.

Apply today to join the 2018 Mentor-Connect cohort. The deadline is October 13. An orientation webinar is scheduled for September 13.

Colleges must each give two STEM faculty members release time to travel to two Mentor-Connect technical assistance workshops and to work intermittently with a mentor over nine months while they prepare a grant proposal to the ATE program.

For its investment, Augusta Tech gained its first NSF ATE grant of $198,865 to support its Virtual Industrial Process Simulator Laboratory for its nuclear engineering technology program. It also helped to improve relationships with the companies that employ its nuclear engineering technology graduates, and it helped the college improve its ability to get other grants, including a $3 million competitive Title III grant from the U.S. Education Department.

Not every grant Frank-Alston has written since Mentor-Connect has been funded. But, she said, being able to refer to her notes on logic models and other topics covered during Mentor-Connect’s workshops has strengthened all her grant applications since 2015.

A network of growth

For her own professional development, Frank-Alston applied to the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program for a fellowship. She is one of 38 educators in the 2017-2018 Presidential Fellows who began their fellowships in July with a workshop at Stanford University.

Augusta Tech faculty beyond the two who received mentoring through Mentor-Connect have also benefitted. Others at the college have learned about strategies for recruiting and retaining underrepresented populations thanks to a professional development workshop offered by the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology, and Science, an ATE project that the team learned about through Mentor-Connect.

“Mentor-Connect really helped us build our network,” Frank-Alston said, explaining the ATE connections complement student success initiatives the college instituted through Achieving the Dream.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.