A springboard for creativity

Photo: AACC

Community college educators who serve as principal investigators of Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) often instigate broader changes at their campuses while working on the STEM technician education innovations that are at the heart of their individual ATE grants.

This is the observation of Rachael Bower, principal investigator of ATE Central, a project funded by NSF to archive curricula and other resources developed by ATE projects and centers. In this role, ATE Central acts as an information hub for the ATE community. Bower is also the principal investigator for the ATE Impacts publication, which was released this year in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and with NSF support to mark the program’s 25th anniversary.

The ATE program, which began in 1993, is a competitive grant program that funds innovative STEM technician education programs and research. Community college educators have leadership roles in ATE initiatives, which also include partnerships with employers in fields important to the nation’s economy and security. With ATE grants totaling more than $1 billion over its 25-year tenure, ATE is NSF’s largest investment in associate-degree granting institutions.

More than 900 people — ATE principal investigators, industry partners and students — will gather October 24-26 in Washington, D.C., for the ATE Principal Investigators Conference hosted by AACC in partnership with NSF.

Chock full of info

ATE Impacts, which is available for free upon request, highlights the full breadth of topics covered by the program and summarizes activities offered by ATE centers and selected ATE projects.

The book is designed to inform community college educators who are considering applying for ATE grants, college administrators, current and potential industry partners, secondary school and college educators, elected officials, and other stakeholders in government and community organizations.

“The book is an amazing outreach tool,” Bower said when discussing the many ways that community college faculty can use the model lessons, courses and degree programs created with ATE grants for others to adopt and adapt. (See below.)

Bower also encourages faculty to apply for ATE grants to test their ideas for program improvement and potentially accelerate other innovations.

Thinking more broadly

Bower says over the past 25 years “a combination of factors” have made it possible for ATE principal investigators (PIs) not only to achieve the goals of their ATE grants, but to instigate broader changes on their campuses to improve students’ preparation for STEM technical careers.

Related story: How ATE transforms students’ lives

Here is what Bower has observed happening across the ATE community:

“When a grantee receives ATE funding, it provides them with monies to carry out the work they’ve proposed. For example they may use grant funds for program improvement, program development, educational research or faculty professional development. Being part of ATE also connects them to a whole new cohort of collaborators — ATE community members, new industry partners, new colleagues at other higher-ed and other educational institutions, to name just a few examples …

“As that happens, as they start meeting new collaborators, creativity gets sparked and people get ideas for new programs, and begin planning new projects and seeking new grants. I do think receiving an ATE grant is a springboard for a lot of people to tap into that creativity and to think more broadly about how they can improve their own programs and how they can improve the general state of technician education, whether regionally or nationally.”

10 ways to tap into the ATE program  

  1. Download innovative ATE curricula and instructional materials from ATE Central’s resources.
  2. Access the free and low-cost professional development listed on TeachingTechnicians.org and ATE Central.
  3. Read the ATE Impacts 2018-2019 book and blog to learn what ATE centers and featured projects are doing to improve technician education, and then contact them to offer your college as a test site.
  4. Manipulate the options within ATE Central’s map to find potential collaborators by discipline or state.
  5. Use ATE-TV videos and podcasts for STEM program recruitment.
  6. Attend the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference to learn how to adopt or adapt innovations developed by ATE centers and projects.
  7. Use evaluation resources from EvaluATE.
  8. Apply to MentorLinks for help starting a new technician education program or improving an existing one.
  9. Apply to Mentor-Connect for help to prepare a competitive ATE proposal.
  10. Follow the directions in the ATE program solicitation and submit a thorough ATE proposal to NSF ahead of the annual deadline. Proposal deadlines in the next two years are October 3, 2019, and October 1, 2020.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.