Mentor-Connect helps college start logistics tech program

Cedar Valley College faculty and staff leveraged multiple Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program assets that they learned about through Mentor-Connect to launch a logistics technology program in the community near the International Inland Port of Dallas.

The program, which offers three certificates and an associate in applied sciences degree, began in spring 2016 with 10 students. It had 40 students during 2017-2018; 60 are enrolled for this fall. Slightly more than half of the students have been military veterans.

“Absorbing best practices” from their Mentor-Connect Mentor Elaine Johnson, who is executive director of Bio-Link, helped the college’s team members write a successful proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and make a strong start with their first ATE grant, said Ruben Johnson, executive dean of business and technology at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas. In addition to his academic background, Ruben Johnson is using his 20 years of service in logistics for the U.S. Marine Corps as principal investigator of the $199,992 ATE grant that the college received from NSF in 2015 to develop the curriculum for the logistics program and start it.

Mentor-Connect is offering more two-year colleges the opportunity to receive advice from community college STEM experts. The application, due by October 12, asks faculty members to explain their ideas for enhancing technician education. The summary serves as a rough draft of the project proposal that the team of instructors and administrators from 20 selected colleges will work on with their mentors for nine months in advance of the October 2019 proposal submission deadline for NSF-ATE. The NSF-ATE program focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive the U.S. economy.

Three-pronged approach

Mentor-Connect itself is an ATE project that is a partnership between the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College and the American Association of Community Colleges.

To expand participation in NSF-ATE, Mentor-Connect uses a three-pronged approach that involves mentoring, technical assistance and digital resources.

At its core, Mentor-Connect includes one-on-one mentoring of faculty from selected colleges by experienced NSF-ATE principal investigators. By leveraging the talents of individuals who have had success serving as principal investigators of multiple NSF-ATE grants, Mentor-Connect aims to develop a new generation of STEM education leaders at two-year colleges.

Mentor-Connect’s technical assistance comes primarily through the grant-writing training that the program’s personnel provide during in-person workshops, webinars and through help-desk queries.

Its digital resources include a key-word searchable digital library collection of information specific to preparing and submitting NSF-ATE proposals. Mentor-Connect’s digital resources are free and do not require participation in Mentor-Connect.

Colleges selected for Mentor-Connect must send at least two faculty members to two Mentor-Connect Technical Assistance Workshops. The first workshop is February 6-8 in New Orleans; the second one will be in July 2019 in conjunction with the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference.

Mentor-Connect offers colleges travel support for two faculty team members. Participating colleges cover the cost of sending up to two grant writers and/or sponsored research officers (SRO) to the workshops. (Many colleges choose to send grant writers or other staff members to enhance their institutions’ capacity for managing grants from NSF and other federal agencies.)

To be eligible for Mentor-Connect, a college must not have received an ATE grant in the past seven years or have never received one at all.

To diversify the NSF-ATE applicant pool, the Mentor-Connect project team encourages applications from small colleges, rural colleges and colleges that serve populations underrepresented in STEM fields. The guidelines for the NSF-ATE program encourage proposals from minority-serving institutions and other institutions that support the recruitment, retention, and completion of underrepresented students in technician education programs.

Cedar Valley’s experience

Cedar Valley has an established grants department that had worked on other federal grants. But, as Ruben Johnson explained, being able to talk through ideas on the phone and in person with Elaine Johnson (no relation) at two Mentor-Connect workshops in 2014 strengthened the college’s first successful grant proposal to NSF.

“Just the fact of her knowing it” was helpful, Ruben Johnson said, referring to their mentor’s fluency with all aspects of the ATE program.

In her role as mentor, Elaine Johnson connected the Cedar Valley team with leaders of two ATE centers: the National Center for Supply Chain Automation (SCA) at Norco College and the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC), which was at the Kentucky Community and Technical College. Cedar Valley modeled its curriculum on SCA’s, and used AMTEC’s modified DACUM process to learn about the skills sought by the companies with facilities in the inland port.

Tips from AMTEC regarding its work with Toyota and other automakers helped Cedar Valley as it embarked on partnerships for the logistics program. Partners of the college’s logistics program currently include Wal-Mart, FedEx, FFE and KLLM Trucking, Ultra Beauty, Neovia Logistics, WNA Inc., L’Oreal and Trinity Logistics.

Cedar Valley’s program includes a cooperative course that has students work at least 20 hours per week, usually in the last semester of their associate degree.

This summer, after relying on adjunct instructors, the college is adding a full-time logistics instructor. The new faculty member’s duties include expanding the dual-credit program at area high schools, where most students are minority and low-income.

Ruben Johnson pointed to this hiring as indicative of the Dallas County Community College District’s commitment to the logistics program’s effort to open career opportunities for residents of South Dallas County, which has a large minority population whose incomes have historically been lower than elsewhere in the region, and to meet employers’ needs for skilled technicians.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.