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Leveraging MentorLinks for more, larger grants

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A Mount Wachusett Community College student performs a manual dexterity exam for insights into conditions that biomedical device manufacturing technicians encounter.

​Editor’s note: This article begins a weeklong series on MentorLinks, a National Science Foundation-supported program managed by the American Association of Community Colleges that pairs two-year colleges with mentors to develop strong STEM programs.

For Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC), a little advice on a grant application went a long way.

A few tweaks recommended by a MentorLinks mentor helped the college not only eventually secure the grant they applied for, but they also served as a cornerstone to get other federal grants.

“Everything we’ve done has been flavored by our great experience at MentorLinks and our wonderful mentor,” said John Henshaw, assistant dean of workforce development at MWCC in Gardner, Mass. 

Linda Rehfuss was the MWCC’s MentorLinks mentor. She is associate professor of biotechnology and biology at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa.

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

Henshaw cited Rehfuss’s advice as critical for improving a federal Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant proposal the college originally submitted in 2011 (prior to beginning MentorLinks). The original proposal was not funded, but reviewers’ comments encouraged resubmission with changes. Rehfuss helped him and other Mount Wachusett personnel find an evaluator for the proposed project, add subject matter expertise to their application and develop a better data management plan.

MWCC submitted the revamped proposal in fall 2012. This September, the National Science Foundation awarded the college a $291,115 grant for a project named Stackable Training for Laboratory Science and Quality Technicians in Biopharmaceutical and Biomedical Manufacturing. The ATE project will build four competency-based stackable credentials that lead to a new associate degree in analytical and quality technology.

Building on success

This new degree grew directly from the new Quality and Compliance course that the college developed during MentorLinks. MWCC also revised its Solution and Media Preparation course and Safety course; both courses are part of its biotechnology degree program. The new content is also incorporated into modules for non-credit training that is part of the advanced manufacturing career preparation program for people employed or aspiring to work for biomedical device manufacturers.

MentorLinks colleges grow STEM programs

The biotech program will be part of the new analytical and quality systems program MWCC will develop with its ATE grant. Henshaw hopes that students who enroll in the new degree program will be eligible for scholarships through a $642,305 NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) grant that two other MWCC faculty members obtained in August.

NSF is not the only federal agency to respond positively to MWCC’s proposals. The college was also recently awarded a $15.9 million grant from the Department of Labor (DOL).

“Once we submitted the NSF proposal, which included a commitment by our college president to move forward on this path, we looked to leverage it into a proposal to DOL for TAACCCT3 [Round 3 of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program],” Henshaw explained.

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MWCC is now the lead institution for a $15.9-million, four-state DOL grant. The college will receive $6.45 million to accelerate the educational preparation and credentialing of technicians in mechatronics and quality career paths for advanced manufacturers. MWCC was a partner on a Massachusetts-based 2011 TACCCT grant. Both DOL grants focus on helping unemployed workers improve their technical skills. 

“We also broadened our exposure to the community college community through MentorLinks and have been participating in a national skills harmonization effort for biomedical device manufacturing education programs as a result,” Henshaw said. 

This work led to MWCC partnering with Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, Ind., and other institutions on an ATE center planning grant proposal that was submitted this fall.

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