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A mentoring maestro

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Rassoul Dastmozd advises MentorLinks participants in 2010. (Photo: Madeline Patton)​

​Rassoul Dastmozd's methodical approach to mentoring produces exceptional benefits for the educators he teaches and their students. 

​Dastmozd's first MentorLinks college obtained $1.5 million in funding for a new mechatronics program under his guidance. His second MentorLinks college won state approval for a new welding degree program and established a partnership that provides significant tuition discounts for students. And since 2006, Dastmozd—who this fall will serve as president of St. Paul College in Minnesota —has volunteered to work on a U.S. steering committee that uses MentorLinks as a model to improve vocational and technical training in India.

"He just has a wealth of knowledge. He may not know every answer, but he knows where to go to find information," said Joe Wuest, a welding instructor for Lewis & Clark Community College (L&C) in Illinois. "I thought he was the perfect choice for us."

Though not a welding instructor, Dastmozd—who served as Wuest’s MentorLinks mentor from 2008-10—has grown welding programs at two community colleges and is well-connected with people in a wide range of manufacturing education programs, Wuest said.

Crafting a plan

Dastmozd, who currently is vice president of instruction at ​Clark College (Washington), believes “the power of innovation resides in faculty." So his mentoring begins with listening attentively to what the faculty members want to achieve. Then Dastmozd asks his mentees to be open-minded and follow the systematic steps that he develops to channel their efforts toward that goal.

MentorLinks is an American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) program that helps colleges start or revamp technician education programs. AACC funds MentorLinks through an Advanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation.

Dastmozd’s system includes monthly hour-long phone calls with his mentees and periodic e-mails. The monthly calls are scheduled in advance with an agenda. After the call, he follows up with notes for the mentee to confirm what they talked about and each person’s action items.

Dastmozd devotes part of each call to discussing grants, with mentees identifying what part of their projects need funding. Then with the rubric Dastmozd uses at Clark College, the mentees search for grants that fit their projects. He encourages them to begin writing sections of grant applications well ahead of submission deadlines. 

“I facilitated in a non-threatening way what he needed to do,” Dastmozd said of the process he used with Wuest. 

Hitting the road

To help Wuest determine his needs to create a welding degree program at L&C and to stretch the MentorLinks grant money, Dastmozd set meetings for Wuest at several colleges with strong welding programs. Wuest traveled to Ohio, Iowa and Washington state in the summer of 2009 on his motorcycle—his preferred mode of transportation.

At each college, Wuest talked to welding instructors and took photos of their equipment. He wanted to find the best way to educate a wide range of students, including dual-enrolled welding students at eight high schools, traditional-college-age students and adults in contract training.

After spending most of the first year in MentorLinks gathering information and planning, Wuest followed Dastmozd's and other MentorLinks mentors' advice for organizing an industry advisory committee. The industry advisors told Wuest the skills they wanted welders to have.

Dastmozd also connected Wuest with the American Welding Society. Its curriculum became the basis for L&C's modular curriculum. In 2010, all the courses and the associate in applied science degree in welding technology—with its 11 stackable certificates—were approved by the Illinois Community College Board.

Wuest's initial grant applications have not been as successful. As a result, building a separate welding education facility, as initially planned, may not happen until Illinois' higher education funding issues are resolved. But he has not given up.

In the meantime, the partnership with Southwest Illinois College (SWIC) that Wuest initiated as Dastmozd suggested is helping L&C students. SWIC, located in another community college district about 25 miles from L&C, has an established welding program, and its faculty members advised Wuest during his time in MentorLinks. The collaboration has streamlined the process for L&C students to enroll in SWIC's welding program at in-district tuition rates, which saves students hundreds of dollars per credit hour.

Other partners

The first MentorLinks team Dastmozd mentored did secure significant grants. Owensboro Community College (OCC) in Kentucky leveraged its MentorLinks project in advanced manufacturing to obtain its first Advanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation. The college used the $597,000 grant for its Discover Mechatronics–Next Generation Manufacturing project to support student career pathways and faculty professional development activities in Kentucky.

In the process of redesigning the curriculum, OCC purchased $1 million in new equipment with federal Perkins grants and funding from the Kentucky Governor's Office for Local Development.

Dastmozd is such a supporter of the MentorLinks model that since 2006 he has served as a volunteer on PanIIT U.S.A. steering committee for IITians for ITIs. PanIIT is an India nation building organization that strives to improve and drive sustainable excellence in India's industrial training institutes (ITIs), which are known formally as Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). 

Dastmozd provides the community college vision on the committee. The program recruits IIT alumni in India to mentor the ITI principals, instructors and students. Mentors serve as liaisons with local industry. Other alumni are involved in program administration, governance and monitoring. They also provide financial contributions for instructor training, equipment and scholarships.

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