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MentorLinks colleges grow STEM programs

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At the October 2013 MentorLinks meeting, Northeast Community College mentor Davina Pruitt-Mentle, co-principal investigator of National Cyberwatch Center, shared her industry partnership strategies during a small group discussion.

​Like the proverbial mustard seeds, MentorLinks grants awarded by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) with National Science Foundation (NSF) support have a history of blossoming into programs much larger and more ambitious than one might expect from a $20,000 award.

All eight community colleges in the 2011-2013 cohort that finished two-year MentorLinks grants this fall successfully launched new courses, new certificate or degree programs, or internship programs with advice from a mentor and technical support from AACC. (CC Daily this week will feature articles on the colleges.)

The MentorLinks colleges overcame various hurdles including budget issues and personnel changes to achieve their goals of starting or improving particular science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) programs at their institutions.  

Applications for the next round of MentorLinks colleges and mentors will be available in late February on AACC's MentorLinks webpage.

Most notably, four of the eight colleges in the most recent cohort obtained NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grants, and two of the eight colleges became the lead institutions on multi-million dollar U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) grants that will build new programs related to the colleges’ MentorLinks initiatives.  

Ellen Hause, who leads MentorLinks as AACC’s program director for Innovative Learning and Student Success, told the mentees at their final meeting, “It’s always sad to close out a cohort. But I’m also excited by what you’ve accomplished. This is not the end, only the beginning as you continue to build your programs with this network.”

An impressive record

The outcomes of the 41 MentorLinks grants that AACC has awarded since the program started as a pilot project in 1999 are impressive. In addition to developing their intended new or improved programs, MentorLinks nurtured new partnerships and led to other projects at the 41 colleges.

Accomplishments of 2011-2013 MentorLinks colleges

Hause points out that the individual mentors who AACC pairs with the colleges focus on resource efficiency and development.

MentorLinks colleges have successfully worked with their mentors to establish local advisory committees; develop curriculum; implement changes in ongoing programs to be more responsive to industry and employer needs; provide professional development for faculty and staff; recruit students; offer experiential learning opportunities; cultivate industry partnerships; and increase recognition and program support among college administrators.

While not a MentorLinks requirement, more than a dozen MentorLinks colleges since 1999 have applied for ATE-NSF project funding. So far, seven have received ATE awards totaling more than $2 million to continue program enhancements started with MentorLinks. 

Leveraging MentorLinks for more, larger grants​

Previous cohorts have leveraged support for a variety of projects, including construction of a science building with lab stations at two different colleges. They have also raised about $1 million from federal agencies not related to NSF and from state sources for equipment, for labs and for program expansion.

The total additional financial support leveraged just by the 26 colleges funded between 2002 and 2010 was $2.1 million—for a return on investment of $337,500 in MentorLinks grant awards to the colleges.

Examining businesses' needs lead to IT security program

In their annual reports, both mentors and personnel from MentorLinks colleges have noted that they have learned directly from their peers and gained critical insights about building and sustaining new programs.

The cumulative effect of MentorLinks has helped colleges advance their work in various STEM fields.

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