Mentor-Connect provides guidance for the next step

North Arkansas College faculty teams followed Mentor-Connect guidance to prepare two ATE grants, which enhance the information technology program and improve course delivery to underrepresented rural populations. (Photo: Northark)

Applying for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant may not be at the top of faculty to-do lists in the midst of dealing with COVID-19, but Mentor-Connect Principal Investigator Elaine Craft makes the case that it should be: “This too shall pass, and when that day comes, wouldn’t it be great to have some grant money to create the STEM technician program of your dreams?”

Mentor-Connect has a live webinar from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 10, to explain Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program funding opportunities and how Mentor-Connect helps two-year college faculty teams prepare competitive proposals to this National Science Foundation program. (Reserve a space at Mentor-Connect registration.)  

Applications for Mentor-Connect’s 2021 mentee cohort are due October 9. Faculty from two-year colleges that have never had an ATE grant (or that have not had an ATE grant in the past seven years) are eligible to receive mentoring. Mentor-Connect’s online grant-writing resources are free and open to the public.

Mentor-Connect is a leadership development and outreach initiative for ATE managed by the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center (SCATE) at Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC). Mentor-Connect projects are implemented in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Overcoming previous challenges

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a new phenomenon, Mentor-Connect mentors have seen their mentees through other stormy times.

In 2016, for instance, people on the North Arkansas College (Northark) team were beset by multiple personal and health challenges that threatened to derail their plan to apply for a New-to-ATE grant.

“If it could go wrong, when we were getting started, it did go wrong,” explained Laura Berry, dean of arts, sciences, business and information technology at Northark and part of the Mentor-Connect mentee team.

Ann Beheler, Northark’s mentor, encouraged Berry and the two STEM faculty leads on the team to persevere and suggested strategies to stay on track. At Mentor-Connect’s summer workshop she even gave them a deadline and urged them to stay in a hotel conference room until they completed a full draft of the proposal for her to review. Beheler is the principal investigator of the National Convergence Technology Center at Collin College in Texas.

“We worked awfully hard,” Berry said. The extra-long work session and push at other times paid off. Their proposal for the Effectively Delivering Networking and Cybersecurity Education in a Rural Environment project received a $199,341 grant award in 2017.

Northark used the funds to revitalize its information technology (IT) program, including the addition of simulcast delivery of networking courses from the college’s main campus in Harrison to its rural Carroll County Center in Berryville. The success of this remote delivery effort led to many internal collaborations and expansion of the number and type of courses “beamed” to satellite sites.

“It was all about providing more access,” Berry said during an interview.

Other benefits

In a recent email, Berry enumerated other benefits that have flowed from Northark’s participation in Mentor-Connect.  

“Not only did Mentor-Connect and Ann [Beheler] give us the time, mentoring and tools to write a successful New-to-ATE grant, they then provided additional support to help us write a follow-up grant (through Mentor-Connect’s Moving-Up Mentoring) that we were recently awarded. The original grant ended on June 30 of this year and the new one started on July 1.  The new grant is not a continuation of the New-to-ATE grant, but builds upon it,” Berry wrote.

With the new $470,059 award for Expanding Remote Delivery of Information Technologies Education in a Rural Environment, the college plans to add instruction in cloud technologies, virtualization, and the Internet of Things, as well as a capstone course to its associate IT degree curriculum.

While not easily quantifiable, Berry considers the college’s participation in the Convergence College Network among the other valuable benefits from Mentor-Connect.

Prompted by Beheler, Northark joined the network, which is a “community of practice” that the National Convergence Technology Center coordinates.

“The connections, resources and professional development we get from the center are just incredible. She (Beheler) also helped us to strengthen our advisory committee into a much more engaged and effective Business and Industry Leadership Team, and that relationship is very important to us.”

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.