Sound advice on STEM tech ed programs

Students enrolled in the new mechatronics program at Southestern Community College in North Carolina learn a wide variety of skills using mechanical, electronic, hydraulic and pneumatic trainers. The program was developed with MentorLinks support. (Photo: SCC)

After their first year in MentorLinks, the 11 faculty-administrator teams participating in the STEM technician education improvement initiative report that following their mentors’ advice has led to positive outcomes.

Southeastern Community College, for instance, launched a mechatronics engineering technology degree program in less than 12 months. Other colleges, like Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri, discovered emerging technical fields growing in their communities. And Seminole State College in Oklahoma submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Helping two-year colleges start new technician education programs or reinvigorate existing ones are the goals of MentorLinks, which is one of three programs the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) offers with support from an NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant.

In addition to receiving two years of mentoring from a community college subject-matter expert, each of the 11 colleges in the 2017-2019 MentorLinks cohort gets technical assistance from AACC; $20,000 grants for professional development and release time for curriculum development; and travel support. The application for the next MentorLinks cohort will be available in spring 2019.

Below, we profile the 11 teams and their projects.

An invaluable compass

“His ideas really pointed us in the right direction,” Jeff Hester, the instructor of SCC’s mechatronics program, said about Jim Hyder, the educational consultant who is the North Carolina college’s MentorLinks mentor.

Angela Ransom, chair of SCC’s business and technical programs division, calls Hyder’s analysis “invaluable to us.” Hyder has worked in industry and with several ATE centers.

In addition to meeting with SCC leaders and local employers during a visit to the Whitesville campus, Hyder arranged for Hester and Ransom to visit Virginia Western Community College where they talked with Daniel C. Horine, an automated manufacturing instructor who created the mechatronics program there with the support of an NSF ATE grant.

Ransom said the key result of their monthly phone conversations with Hyder and interactions with people he connected them to is a mechatronics curriculum with multiple entry and exit points. For instance, SCC’s dual-enrollment mechatronics program has different options of juniors and seniors to enter the workforce immediately after high school, or to transfer to the college. There are also pathways for individuals to transition from a workforce development program, as well as for incumbent technicians and traditional college-age students to enter and earn a certificate, diploma or associate degree.

This past year, the college used part of its MentorLinks grant to create a promotional video and other recruitment materials, and to convene meetings with high school guidance counselors to explain the program.

Nine students started in the mechatronics program in August and have persisted despite devastating floods in the college’s service area from Hurricane Florence in September.

Surveying (and chatting) with employers

When the Ozarks Technical Community College team members met their mentor Jennifer Fridgen last fall, they brainstormed about ways to improve retention and credential completion among the 200 students enrolled in the general agriculture, plant and animal science, and turf and landscape programs. The team thought an ag-biotech program would fit into the college’s new facility plans. But Fridgen suggested surveying employers in the rural community before starting any new programs. (Fridgen is the agriculture program director at Parkland College in Illinois, where she used focus groups’ input to expand a precision agriculture program with an NSF ATE grant.)

In addition to emailing surveys to employers, Rob Flatness, the construction trades department chair who teaches the capstone turf management course, hand delivered more than 30 questionnaires and often stayed to chat with business owners. Those conversations led to several people joining the industry advisory committee.

The 34 surveys that were completed identified significant demand for technicians of outdoor power equipment and power sports technologies, such as utility task vehicles (UTVs), which are increasingly used by farmers, ranchers, commercial landscapers and hobbyists.

The Ozarks Tech team is now preparing to build a one-year certificate program, and eventually an associate degree in power support.

Upgrading programs

With a focus on emerging environmental technologies and sustainable practices, faculty member Gail Alexander and Erik Tingelstad, dean for student living at Cascadia College in Washington, are creating cross-discipline certificate programs for energy data analysts and automation technicians. They are also adding occupational information as they revamp the electromechanics lab into an automated controls lab course and remake a water quality and conservation course into a wastewater technology course.

During the next year the team and mentor Roger Ebbage, director of the Northwest Water & Energy Education Institute at Lane Community College in Oregon, will work on marketing the new programs to minorities, women, veterans and high school students.

Developing content and marketing

At Daytona State College in Florida, computer sciences faculty members Luke Sui and Anindya Paul had completed a proposal for a new degree in database technology before meeting their mentor Vincent DiNoto, Jr., director of the National Geospatial Center of Excellence. So their weekly phone calls with him this year focused on developing content and learning outcomes for the seven new courses in the degree, which received approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in July, and planning how to market the new program.

Focused on cybersecurity

Associate IT professor Andrew Lutz and assistant dean Deb Elder at Johnson County Community College (Kansas) have made significant progress in adding cybersecurity awareness and skills to the college’s offerings. In addition to receiving approval to start a cybersecurity certificate program next fall, they created a new cybersecurity fundamentals course, started a Cyber Club and cybersecurity competition, and convened an Institutional Cyber Day forum.

They will continue to work with mentor Danis Heighton to attain Center of Academic Excellence 2-Year (CAE2Y) designation. Heighton is a professor of computer networking and cybersecurity at Clark State Community College in Ohio.

Expanding CISCO training

At McHenry County College in Illinois, networking instructor Stephen Mujeye and Diana Sharp, dean of career and technical education until mid-2018, achieved their big goals of developing CISCO courses, setting up a server room and CISCO lab, and establishing an industry advisory board.

The college offered Cisco I and II courses this fall, and will offer Cisco III and IV in the spring. Next fall, it will offer a new network security course. The college’s mentor is Elizabeth Hawthorne, senior professor of computer science and cybersecurity at Union County College in New Jersey.

Cybersecurity pathways

The cybersecurity program at the Piedmont Virginia Community College gained momentum thanks to strong interest among students and employers. Enrollment in the associate degree program grew from 16 students when it started in 2016-2017 to 46 in 2017-2018. Enrollment in the certificate program grew from 23 to 32.

Through MentorLinks, the college began a partnership with Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) and CISCO to offer cybersecurity training to high school students. It also started an ethical hacking program that allows dual-enrolled high school students to earn up to 16 college credits.

Richard Seweryniak, associate professor of cybersecurity, and Adam Hastings, dean of business, mathematics and technology, and mentor Cathy Balas plan to continue working on attaining CAE2Y designation and establishing more pathways with K-12 schools and four-year institutions. Balas is an educational consultant who formerly served as a trustee at Clark State Community College in Ohio.

A new look for ag ed

Biology instructor Wayne Busch and academic affairs dean Kelly McCalla of Riverland Community College (Minnesota) are working with mentor Ken Walz on developing an introductory course in agricultural technology and a capstone experience. Walz is principal investigator of the Center For Renewable Energy Advance Technological Education at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin.

The team is restructuring the college’s animal science offerings as well. During the past year, it revised eight master course outlines, developed two new courses, constructed a dedicated classroom for agriculture instruction, held five workshops attended by 400 people, convened an agriculture summit and began work on more articulation agreements.

Recruiting nontraditional students

Outreach efforts to attract talented students to the computer-integrated machining program at Rockingham Community College in North Carolina included veterans and people residing in homeless shelters. High school guidance counselors, adult GED classes and parents were among the other groups who received tours of the machine shop as part of the recruitment effort by the MentorLinks team.

First-year students in the program increased from six to 12, as total enrollment in the past year grew to 27 Student retention in the first year of MentoLinks was 96 percent. Laura Coffee, dean of workforce development and continuing education, and mentor Richard Polanin plan to continue working on developing an apprenticeship program. (Polanin is a professor of manufacturing engineering technology at Illinois Central College.)

 Eye on engineering

Seminole State College in Oklahoma submitted a grant proposal to NSF in the Small Grants for Institutions New to the ATE Program track in October. Earlier in the year, the college got the go-ahead for a new engineering technology associate degree. Both accomplishments are thanks to Jarrod Tollett and Linda Goeller of the college’s science, technology, engineering and math division and their mentor, Kevin Cooper, who is principal investigator of the Regional Center for Nuclear Education and Training.

The new degree’s Introduction to Engineering course began with six students at the Gordon Cooper Technology Center this fall. Cooper’s guidance also helped his mentees build an industry advisory team with participants from Enviro Systems, Inc., Eaton and Georg Fischer Central Plastics LLC.

The team’s next steps include establishing an internship programs with local employers.

Adding a hands-on component

To improve student retention in the environmental science technology program at St. Petersburg College in Florida, faculty members Maura Scanlon and Amanda Gilleland added more hands-on experiences in classes. They also rewrote four courses for a new water quality specialist certificate program that began this fall.

Multiple courses have been infused with renewable energy concepts and hazardous materials lessons from the professional development programs recommended by their mentor Kathleen Alfano. (She is co-principal investigator of Center for Renewable Energy Advance Technological Education and emeritus faculty member of the College of the Canyons in California.)

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.