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Mentor Fellow Ken Mays (center) listens while Vince DiNoto (far right), GeoTech Center director and longtime Mentor-Connect mentor, tells new mentees about the National Science Foundation’s grant proposal process during Mentor-Connect’s 2019 Winter Workshop. (Photo: Madeline Patton)

The regenerative leadership development aspect of the Mentor-Connect program began a new phase in 2019 with Ken Mays’ addition to the corps of Mentor Fellows.

Mays is the first Mentor-Connect mentee to participate in the Mentor Fellow internship program that prepares people to become mentors for Mentor-Connect, the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) project that helped him obtain his first National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The grant also was the first NSF grant awarded to Central Oregon Community College (COCC).

Since 2014, Mays has gone from observing at a distance the emergence of a new automotive technology to leading the national effort to develop the first skill standards for technicians who work on hybrid electric vehicles.

With the release this month of new applications for both programs, Mays is encouraging faculty who have never had an ATE grant to apply for Mentor-Connect mentoring to learn how to prepare a competitive proposal for NSF funding. He also hopes people who have participated in the ATE program will apply to the Mentor Fellows internship program to learn how to become Mentor-Connect mentors.

The 2020 applications for Mentor-Connect mentoring (due October 11) and the Mentor Fellows internship program (due September 27) are at mentor-connect.org.

The American Association of Community Colleges is a partner on Mentor-Connect, which is led by the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Drafting a solid proposal

Mays, who is COCC’s director of automotive technology, is one of four Mentor-Connect mentor fellows shadowing Mentor-Connect’s most-experienced mentors during 2019. The process helps program participants and leaders determine if formally mentoring faculty from colleges new to ATE is a good fit for the fellows. The three other mentor fellows have been involved in multiple ATE grants, but did not receive mentoring from Mentor-Connect.

When asked about the results of his Mentor-Connect experience, Mays tallied the positive things that have occurred since January 2014 when he and Bruce Emerson, COCC physics professor, arrived at their first Mentor-Connect workshop session “without a clue” about the ATE program.

Mentor-Connect Mentor Deborah Boisvert (left) listens in 2014 while Ken Mays (seated far right) explains what he and Bruce Emerson (center) envision for the Northwest Engineering Vehicle Exchange. (Photo: David Hata)

At the time, they had a bare sketch of a plan for combining instruction in hybrid electric vehicle technologies, which Mays considers the most exciting new automotive technology, with open badge credentials that Emerson was then testing for alternative certification of skills.

“We met with our mentor by phone every week,” Mays said of their process for writing the grant proposal and helping the college set up the systems for handling an NSF grant award.

Deborah Boisvert “was very patient with us,” Mays said of their mentor who was then principal investigator of Broadening Area Technological Education Connections (BATEC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The proposal for the Northwest Engineering Vehicle Exchange (NEVTEX) that Mays and Emerson submitted in October 2014 received a grant in the Small Grants for Institutions New to ATE track in May 2015.

Leading to more advancements

Mays credits Mentor-Connect with facilitating NEVTEX’s improvements to the automotive technology program at COCC and at partner colleges in the region; instigating the non-profit Advanced Vehicle Training Group Northwest that continues to offer educational opportunities for instructors and advanced automotive technicians; and preparing him for his second successful ATE grant proposal. That project — NEVTEX2 — is a partnership with another 2014 Mentor-Connect mentee, John Frala of Rio Hondo College.

Automakers have noticed and have visited COCC to see what students are learning in the latticed curriculum that awards badges, five certificates and an AAS degree in automotive technology in electronics and diagnostics.

The first NEVTEX grant supported the creation of five advanced automotive courses that are part of the college’s offerings.

“Emerson established a mechanism to promote digital badging for two of the courses,” Mays said referring to the Hybrid Electric I and Hybrid Battery Systems courses.

Mays, Emerson and Frala have presented information about their ATE-funded work at national industry and education conferences.

Mays hopes the skill standards that NEVTEX2 is developing with industry advisors will provide the basis for new curricula that other colleges will adopt to teach the technicians who maintain electric-drive vehicles.

As he recounted his ATE journey, Mays said he wants to serve in any way that Mentor-Connect’s leaders deem helpful. Referring to the “fabulous ideas” of the 2019 cohort of Mentor-Connect mentees, Mays said he hopes to be a source of encouragement and guidance to them.

“I want to see each college that comes in the door here succeed,” he said.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.