From MentorLinks mentee to mentor

During her MentorLinks site visit to Iowa Lakes Community College in November, Louise Petruzzella listens to Chad Tischer describe how he teaches about commercial scale wind turbine engines. Tischer is the engineering technology program coordinator at Iowa Lakes; he will receive MentorLinks mentoring from Petruzzella for the next two years. (Photo: Iowa Lakes)

Louise Petruzzella was an adjunct instructor of construction technology when she was selected for a $20,000 MentorLinks grant in 2014. The two years of mentoring and professional development she received through MentorLinks, she says, changed her career trajectory and have helped Shoreline Community College obtain several federal grants.

“So much has opened, just from this tiny little entrée to MentorLinks,” she explained during a recent MentorLinks meeting in Washington, D.C. At that October meeting, Petruzzella met the faculty team from Iowa Lakes Community College that she will mentor for the next two years.

Helping two-year colleges start new technician education programs or reinvigorate existing ones are the goals of MentorLinks, which is one of the projects that the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) offers with support the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) program.

“I was so thankful that MentorLinks gave me the opportunity to connect with the NSF ATE family, and I want to do the favor in turn,” Petruzzella said of her selection as one of 10 subject-matter experts who will mentor the faculty teams selected for 2019-2020 MentorLinks cohort. (See related article.)

A journey of many paths

Petruzzella is now director and lead faculty member of the clean energy technology program at Shoreline. As a MentorLinks mentee from 2014-2016, she grew the program with advice from her MentorLinks mentor Kenneth Walz. He is a chemistry and engineering instructor at Madison Area Technical College (Madison College) and principal investigator of the Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education (CREATE), an ATE center at Madison College.

With the support of a $168,242 ATE grant, which she applied for during MentorLinks, Petruzzella revised the curriculum to include instruction in computer software for designing energy systems and more engineering technology skills. The new degree program also includes a project-based learning experience.

Petruzzella’s connection with Shoreline’s clean energy technology program began in winter 2012 when she enrolled in it. At that point, she had taught philosophy as a part-time instructor at various colleges for 15 years. The mid-career switch was a return to her roots.

Louise Petruzzella was featured in a 2017 Community College Daily article that summarized the accomplishments of 2014-2016 MentorLinks cohort, and 2015 Community College Daily article republished by Shoreline.

As a teenager, Petruzzella worked in her dad’s general contracting business and did home renovation jobs to pay her college tuition. Petruzzella attended Pima Community College before transferring to the University of San Diego, where she earned a baccalaureate. She then earned a master’s of theological studies degree at Emory University.

While she was taking energy technology courses, Shoreline hired Petruzzella to teach philosophy. Shortly after completing her associate degree in clean energy technology in 2014, Petruzzella became an adjunct instructor for the clean energy technology program.

Other benefits

In addition to the dozens of students who have benefited from the improved construction technology program, Petruzzella’s tally of positive outcomes from MentorLinks includes:

  • Her promotion to full-time director of the energy program that prepares students to design solar and building science systems.
  • Her serving as principal investigator of the clean tech ATE project
  • Shoreline receiving an ATE grant for $572,000 immunobiotechnology workforce project
  • Her assignment as the industry liaison for Shoreline’s biotech program
  • Shoreline’s receipt of $160,000 as a partner on two grants from the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals
  • Her collaboration with CREATE that has led to Shoreline hosting professional development programs that instruct other educators about renewable energy technologies

Students are often hired before graduation thanks to the booming construction industry in and around Puget Sound. To encourage enrollment by women, Petruzzella has hired four women as instructors. What was once a one-instructor program now employs seven adjunct instructors — all with construction industry experience.

“I love it … We are definitely women forward,” she said. 

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.