MentorLinks helps colleges achieve goals faster

Jenni Fridgen makes a point during a small group discussion at the MentorLinks 2019 meeting this fall in Washington, D.C. Fridgen is director of the agriculture program at Parkland College in Illinois, an ATE project principal investigator and a MentorLinks mentor. (Photo: Madeline Patton)

“Welcome to the community,” is how Ellen Hause introduced the new cohort of 10 MentorLinks colleges to the mentoring they will receive during the next two years.

MentorLinks is a STEM program improvement initiative that the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) offers to two-year college faculty with support from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.

The ATE community is the community to which Hause, academic and student affairs program director at AACC, referred. This collective noun takes in the several hundred principal investigators and staff members of ATE centers and projects. It is a community that NSF program directors have praised for freely sharing their work and helping two-year college faculty adopt and adapt curricula and strategies to improve technician education developed with ATE support.

A cross-section of advice

At the MentorLinks meeting this fall in Washington, D.C., the new mentees received advice not only from their mentors and the mentoring experts that AACC assembled, but from educators on the 10 MentorLinks teams in the 2017-2019 cohort who were wrapping up their two-year mentoring experiences.

The collective effort to pull each other ahead permeated the formal panels and the small group discussions. For example, current and former mentors led technical assistance sessions on resource development, student recruitment, engaging business and industry, and curriculum development. The mentors listened as mentees from both cohorts described their colleges’ challenges. After mentors offered advice, the mentees sitting around the table shared info about how their colleges addressed similar issues, and what worked and what did not.

“Ask any and all questions,” urged Danis Heighton during a panel on mentoring relationships. Heighton is a former MentorLinks mentee who became a mentor. He described the mentor as a guide to other ATE mentors and resources.

“Be willing to accept new ideas, new concepts,” Heighton told the mentees. His willingness to follow up on suggestions from his MentorLinks mentor Ann Beheler exemplifies the power of ATE connections. Beheler is principal investigator at the Convergence Technology Center at Collin College in Texas).

As a professor of business and applied technologies at Clark State Community College in Ohio, Heighton used MentorLinks funds for release time and professional development to inform his development of a cybersecurity/information assurance degree and certificate program. Connections he made through ATE led to Clark State faculty and students becoming research interns at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which enhanced both the college’s curriculum and students’ job offers.

Background on the program

Overlapping the cohorts is the latest experiment in the 26-year-old initiative that leverages the expertise of community college educators to start or reinvigorate STEM technician education programs. Each two-person college team in the new cohort receives a $20,000 grant for program improvement, the attention of a mentor with experience in the target discipline, technical resources, professional development, and travel support to visit their mentor’s college or another site through 2021.

AACC started MentorLinks in 1999 as a pilot project at the suggestion of Gerhard Salinger, then co-lead program director of the ATE program. Since 2002, AACC has offered MentorLinks through a competitive process every two years.

Half of the 62 colleges that have participated have been rural. Most of the programs targeted for MentorLinks attention have improved, Hause said.

Other MentorLinks accomplishments include:

  • One department created
  • 20 new associate degree programs
  • 34 new certificate programs
  • 148 new courses
  • 26 programs revamped

“You were selected because of your projects and the ability of them to grow. And we put you with mentors who are here purposely because they have built similar programs, and they have networks that can assist you,” Hause said.

It is not a matter of the colleges not being able to improve their programs on their own. “But, by giving you a mentor who has these networks, we really hope you get where you want to be faster,” she said.

The new group and their goals

Each of the 2019-2021 MentorLinks college teams has a faculty member and an administrator on them.

Professor Kathryn Miller wants to start the Appalachian Cybersecurity Innovation Initiative at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Kentucky. Big Sandy’s team also includes Myra Elliott, a dean, and Connie Estep, a grant writer. Their mentor is Davina Pruitt-Mentle, the lead for academic engagement at National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education in Maryland.

Laura Lynch, assistant dean of skilled trades at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in  Kentucky, aims to develop an orthotic and prosthetic technician program. Tammy Liles, academic dean, is the second member of the team being mentored by James Hyder. He is an instructional designer for Rio Salado College in Arizona, and lead STEM Faculty at Seward County Community College in Kansas.

Katherine Marsh, an assistant professor at Compton College in California, wants to start a biotechnology program. Abiodun Osanyinpeju, dean of student learning, is also on the team that is mentored by Linda Rehfuss, professor of biotechnology at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania and co-principal investigator of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative (NBC2) at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.

Chad Tischer, engineering technology program coordinator at Iowa Lakes Community College, wants to improve recruitment to multi-track sustainable energy technician program. Scott Stokes, executive dean, is on the team mentored by Louise Petruzzella, director of the clean energy technology program at Shoreline Community College in Washington. (See sidebar story for more on Petruzzella.)

Douglas Hamm, dean of business and technology at Lakeshore Technical College in Wisconsin, will lead the effort in strengthen the information technology (IT) program’s connections with high schools. Sarah Bornemann, an instructor of IT, web and software development, is also on the team. Ann Beheler, principal investigator of the Convergence Technology Center at Collin College in Texas, is their mentor.

Scott Howie, director of the Northark Technical Center at North Arkansas College, wants to restart a biomedical technician program. John Levy, electronics instructor, is on the team, as well. Their mentor is Greg Kepner, a consultant who formerly led the Midwest Photonics Education Center at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.

Daniel Wagner wants to bring project-based learning to the engineering technology program at North Central State College in Ohio. Wagner is director and chair of the college’s bachelor of applied science degree program in mechanical engineering technology. Michael Beebe, an assistant professor, is on the team mentored by Ken Walz, director of the Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin.

Linda Bell, associate dean of the business division at Reading Area Community College in Pennsylvania, wants to add internships and field experiences to the cyberdefense program. Brian Savage, an assistant professor, is on the team mentored by Danis Heighton, a professor at Clark State Community College in Ohio.

Vicki Badgley wants to build enrollment and add internships to the computer IT program she directs at South Arkansas Community College. Roslyn Turner, an instructor, is also on the team mentored by Elizabeth Hawthorne, senior professor at Union County College in New Jersey.

Misty Wehling, a science instructor, wants to build out a biotechnology program from the one biotechnology course offered at Southeast Community College in Nebraska. Carolee Ritter, dean of arts and sciences, is also on the team mentored by Bridgette Kirkpatrick, a biotechnology professor at Collin College in Texas.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.