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Speed of tech development challenges educators

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The Northeast Advanced Technological Education Center at Hudson Valley Community College prepares students for careers with nanotechnology manufacturers in New York and New England.
(Photo: ATE Centers: Partners with Industry for a New American Workforce)

​In advanced technology fields such as nanotechnology, the technology itself is changing so quickly that staying informed about innovations and deciding which ones to teach are among the biggest challenges for community college educators.

Global competition is so fierce that it takes companies less time to bring new nanotechnology products to market than it takes colleges to set up industry advisory boards, noted a participant during a nanotechnology session at the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigators Conference last fall.

Electronics, micro- and nanotechnologies are among many disciplines included in the National Science Foundation’s ATE program, which focuses on preparing educators and technicians in fields of vital importance to the nation’s security. Community colleges, as the primary source of technician education in the U.S., have leadership roles in ATE grants.  

ATE Student Success: A Report from the Birds of a Feather Sessions

There are currently five ATE centers that focus on electronic, micro- or nanotechnologies. The Northeast Advanced Technological Education Center (NEATEC) is the newest. It opened in 2010 at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in New York to meet the workforce needs of nanotech manufacturers in New York and western New England. Global Foundries Inc., for instance, is building a $4.2 billion advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility in Saratoga County, N.Y., where it plans to make microprocessor and logic products on 300mm wafers. It is the largest commercial capital expansion project in the country. When completed, the facility will employ 1,400 people.

Through NEATEC’s partnership with the University of Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, HVCC students have access to cutting-edge fabrication tools in the university’s 300mm Wafer NanoFab facility. The first cohort of HVCC students began cooperative learning experiences at the university in January.

While all the ATE nanotech centers have significant partnerships with industries and universities, it was obvious during ATE discussions last fall that what constitutes "micro" and "macro" technologies are still evolving. Without clear definitions, it was difficult for educators to reach a consensus on what new technologies should be added to already-crammed 60-credit degree programs.

Recommendations for improvement

During the session, leaders of ATE centers and projects mulled the possibility of working together to initiate skill standards because industry credentialing is limited. They also discussed jointly monitoring the results of programs that teach soft skills with technical skills.

  • To teach workplace and entrepreneurial skills, the nanotechnology participants recommended that educators:
    Create teaching teams that pair full-time faculty members with adjunct instructors to build capacity and address weaknesses
  • Incorporate "lean thinking" in programs
  •  Develop modules that cover soft skills and entrepreneurial skills

    The group also suggested measuring program success by:
  • Developing performance-based evaluations with industry technicians to benchmark skills that should be taught and to validate outcomes
  • Surveying students to determine whether programs help them achieve their goals—whether the goals are employment, internship attainment, transfer to four-year programs or simply completing a few courses
  • Obtaining feedback from employers about graduates’ on-the-job performance with input from graduates’ managers and co-workers

    To serve underrepresented populations, the nanotechnology participants suggested that educators: 
  •  Invest in "seed students" who will serve as role models
  •  Develop cohort groups based on ethnicity, or mixed groups with industry mentors 
  •  Provide financial incentives for companies to hire diverse graduates with associate degrees in applied science
  • Develop paid internships, scholarships and career pathways with industry
  • Create a national marketing plan that includes information on a nanotechnology skill set and a template for nanotechnology career paths
  • Provide on-site childcare, creative scheduling, hybrid courses, evening classes and off-site locations to reach non-traditional students and to help diverse populations overcome barriers

    In addition, the group suggested ways to gauge the progress of serving underrepresented populations. Those include:
  • Determining if program growth matches industry expansion
  • Gathering data about graduates’ diversity, per capita income, satisfaction with the program, sense of inclusion, career opportunities and cultural empowerment
  • Tracking the geographic and economic distribution of education-industry partnerships

    Click here​ to read the recommendations from 11 other disciplines.
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