The lasting impact of Mentor-Connect


Grant funding from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program can transform STEM (science, technology, education and math) programs at community colleges.

But getting that first ATE grant may require a little help. That’s where Mentor-Connect comes in.

Mentor-Connect provides mentoring and technical resources to help two-year college faculty prepare competitive proposals to the ATE program. It’s an ATE project that is a partnership between the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Faculty and staff members who have benefitted from Mentor-Connect report it offers transformational professional experiences. They’ve found its technical assistance helps improve technician education programs and colleges’ grant-management capacity.

Bigger and better things

John C. Frala, alternative fuels instructor and program coordinator at California’s Rio Hondo College, said Mentor-Connect “opened up a lot of doors” that other grants he had received did not. The ATE grant proposal he prepared during 2014 with Mentor-Connect guidance was approved for $200,000 in 2015 and supported Frala’s development of curriculum for an associate of science degree in alternative fuels/second degree battery/electric/hybrid/fuel cell technology.

Seventeen students graduated from the alternative fuels vehicle program in May 2017. All the graduates were hired immediately; the four female graduates were hired by Tesla as Technician II team leaders.

“It changed the lives of our students,” Frala said of the new degree program developed quickly with industry input and NSF support.

Participation in Mentor-Connect also has raised the profile of Rio Hondo and changed Frala’s life, too. The college was selected in 2015 as one of 15 California community colleges to test the concept of public, two-year colleges offering specific bachelor’s degrees. Rio Hondo’s bachelor of science degree is in automotive technology.

2018 applications: October 13 is the deadline to apply for the 2018 Mentor-Connect cohort.

In 2014, Frala became the only educator selected to serve on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s 64-person Green Team of advisors. He also received the 2016 Award for Clean Air Education and Outreach from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

This year, Frala and Ken Mays, director of automotive technology at Central Oregon Community College and another 2014 Mentor-Connect mentee, received a $778,417 ATE grant to create a standardized approach for training and certifying technicians for electric drive vehicles. Mays, the principal investigator for this new collaboration grant, was also the principal investigator of Central Oregon’s first ATE grant. It was used to create curriculum that incorporates badges with traditional credentials for technicians of hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles.

Read the full article at the AACC 21st-Century Center.

Mentor-Connect’s ‘phenomenal impact’: The Mentor-Connect program provides opportunities for transformational experiences for faculty and institutions.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.