Transforming colleges — and students’ lives

CyberPatriot summer camps and competitions at Spartanburg Community College are part of the college’s ATE-funded recruitment and retention strategies. (Photo: SCC)

What a difference a year has made for Marcia Schenck, head of the computer technology department at Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina.

Last summer, Schenck was immersed in her first grant proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. She was receiving advice from her Mentor-Connect mentor Ann Beheler, principal investigator of the National Convergence Technology Center at Collin College in Texas, but the college’s grants person had taken a new job and a new writer had to pitch in.

“I really thought at one time that it was not going to happen,” she said of her successful ATE proposal during a panel discussion at Mentor-Connect’s Summer Workshop in conjunction with the HI-TEC Conference in Miami.

This summer, her ATE-funded project — which focuses on working with industry to incorporate cybersecurity into networking programs — is up and running.

“The new award means that now I can do things that I’ve been wanting to do that there haven’t been college funds for,” Schenck said. With the $218,512 grant, she is infusing cybersecurity in existing courses, offering faculty development, initiating recruitment and retention strategies, and has high school students participating in the CyberPatriot program. “I’m really excited to be able to do this for my department,” she said.

Schenck credits the Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) process that Beheler advised her to use as essential in getting industry support for the program she envisioned and that employers then shaped with her. “I had documentation of what they (employers) said in the grant application. I think that makes a difference,” she told Mentor-Connect’s current cohort of faculty teams from 21 community colleges.

Build in cushion time

Schenck was one of four Mentor-Connect alumni who shared the lessons they learned about writing and executing ATE grants during a panel discussion at Mentor-Connect’s recent workshop.

The panelists encouraged current Mentor-Connect mentees to submit ATE grant proposals in September, or at least two weeks ahead of the October 12 deadline. “Set a forward date for submitting your grant. You are going to have snafus; you are going to have problems,” said Rex Flagg, a science instructor at Black River Technical College in Arkansas.

The panelists also encouraged faculty from colleges that have never received an ATE grant and those at colleges that have not had an ATE grant in the last seven years to apply to Mentor-Connect for help with preparing competitive proposals.

Mentor-Connect applications for the 2019 cohort are due October 12.

An orientation webinar on September 13 will explain the mentoring, in-person and virtual technical support, and digital resources that Mentor-Connect provides to help two-year college faculty prepare competitive ATE grant proposals. Mentor-Connect, itself an ATE project, is a partnership between the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Reuben Johnson, executive dean of business and technology at Cedar Valley College in Texas, praised the technical resources that Mentor-Connect makes freely available on its website. “The webinars are outstanding. Make sure you listen and take notes, and ask questions at each of the webinars,” he said.

End results

Hugh Gallagher, a career coach at the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) in Pennsylvania, said the first ATE grant his college received in 2014 with Mentor-Connect’s guidance “transformed our whole college,” and is now transforming students’ lives.

“When your goals are being realized, it’s a special thing. To see the lives that it impacts is what I’m most excited about,” he said.

The ATE grant that the Community College of Beaver County obtained after participating in Mentor-Connect led to a process technology program that has attracted students, industry involvement and other external support. (Photo: CCBC)

Five years ago, Vince DiNoto Jr., CCBC’s mentor, told Gallagher and his colleagues about several ways to involve industry while they wrote their ATE grant proposal. Those employers then guided the team as it developed an associate of applied science degree program for process technology with a $199,828 ATE grant. DiNoto is director and principal investigator of the National Geospatial Center of Excellence at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Kentucky.

Forty companies are now partners in CCBC’s process technology program that has 75 students taking classes in a new $3 million facility. Recently, the college received $1 million from a private foundation to purchase more process technology equipment and a $539,987 ATE grant to make the program’s curriculum more flexible.

When asked what Mentor-Connect means to him, Gallagher noted a young, single mother who attended the process technology program on a scholarship.

“She went through our program, and now she’s in a position where she just got hired by Shell Chemical making $31 per hour,” he said. “That’s something that’s going to change her life as well as her family’s life. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything better than that.”

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.